Beyond his disability, Filipinos know Apolinario Mabini as revolutionary leader, indeed the “Utak ng Himagsikan.” In text books, Apolinario was often referred to as the “Dakilang Lumpo,” who fought for the freedom of the country without using guns and swords but through his intellect as weapon.
Tanghalang Pilipino is onto the fourth run of steampunk musical “Mabining Mandirigma” with seasoned Broadway actress Monique Wilson as Apolinario.
“Nagmula ito sa pangangailangan ng desisyon na maging musical. Kailangan namin ng isang boses na kayang mapangibabaw doon sa ibang boses na mostly male characters sa play. So, sabi namin, paano kaya iyon? That’s how it started,” Chris Millado said behind the decision to cast a female in the lead role.
The non-traditional casting also had to do with how Apolinario was treated in the government due to his disability. Some Asian traditions in the performing arts also cast women to play the nobles and government officials.
The steampunk theme connects the past to present issues.
“Sabi namin, paano kaya kung babae yung mag-play na pwede din maglaro sa idea na dahil na din ito sa intellectual prowess ni Mabini? Ginawa siyang backup ng mga kasamahan niya and they also feminized him because of his disability—there are testimonies about it,” he said.
Monique, who was Kim in “Miss Saigon” and Maria Clara in “Noli Me Tangere, feels honored to play Apolinario in the musical. She lauded actors Delphine Buencamino and Liesl Batucan, who played the part in earlier runs.
“Malaking karangalan ito na maging Mabini. I also need to fill in very big shoes kasi mas mahirap ang mga ginawa ng ating mga predecessors sapagkat noong kini-create pa lang yung show, andoon na sila. So, that’s a harder process. I’m very honored that I’m following in their footsteps,” Monique said.
She knows the big responsibility of retelling the country’s revolution and how it affects us in present times.
“Sa sitwasyon ng bansa natin ngayon, talagang kailangan natin isipin yung kamalayan ng rebolusyonaryo na isinasadula natin dito sa play.”
Monique said it was her best friend, actor Audie Gemora, who recommended her to join Tanghalang Pilipino. What were the challenges she encountered in doing “Mabining Mandirigma?”
“Sanay tayo na mag-musical in English. Mahirap din yung language at hindi siya yung colloquial, napakaganda ng pagkakasulat ni Dr. Nick Tiongson. Iniisip ko, bakit hindi ko alam ang mga words na ito nung lumalaki ako? There’s a transformation in me in terms of language,” she said.
Playing a man, of course, is another challenge.
“Ang daming kapansanan din na may physical challenge,” she admitted. “At the same time, the musical is very challenging. It’s sophisticated music in a way but yung pagsulat din ni Jed Balsamo is genius, kasi pati yung rhythm may kubuluhan. So, as artists, we have to serve it,” she said.
It has been a long time since she did theater as she became busy with her activism and One Billion Rising as its director. She said that she needs to have “extreme discipline” to be able to serve the story and the music.
“It (theater) is another landscape to go back into, kasi ang aking naging buhay in the last seven years is One Billion Rising at pagiging aktibista. Hindi madali magkaroon ng isang chance na pwede mo i-marry yung pagiging artista at pagiging aktibista…”
After performing a big number of musicals here and abroad, Monique feels a sense of patriotism and fulfillment when doing projects about our history and culture.
“Iba talaga yung sarili niyong istorya as Filipinos yung pini-perform natin. Of course, we’re still nervous but not on the technical side anymore, but if we’re able to serve the weight and gravity of the story. That’s the biggest honor but also the biggest responsibility,” she said.
“Mabining Mandirigma” will be staged at CCP Little Theater on Aug. 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30 and 31, then on Sept. 1.