“Thank you for coming”, she whispers as I take my seat in The Theatre Centre. She is playwright, Jo Simalalaya Alcampo. I can feel right away that she has a story to tell, and that as an audience, we are embarking on a spiritual journey.
The intriguing set confirms this hunch. It has been designed to reflect both the spiritual and real world, with the balete tree forming a graceful common backdrop. Set, costume and props designer Jung-Hye Kim has created both a contemporary setting in rural Manila and a magical world of the past that permits us to suspend disbelief as our journey deepens.
Inspired by family stories about the Japanese occupation and the Battle of Manila, Alcampo has written a play about the effects of World War ll and the unexpected bonds between an unlikely group of characters. Hilot Means Healer tells the story of Flor, a Filipina mangihilot (healer), who is connected to the spiritual world. She is taking care of teenage orphan Alma, when Alfredo, an injured and frightened fighter, is found in their garden. In the end they teach each other (and us), about the power of nature, the meaning of love, and the importance of healing.
The actors realize some memorable characters here. The audience falls in love with the comic banter between Belinda Corpuz (Alma) and Aldrin Bundoc (Alfredo). Carolyn Fe (Flor) moves seamlessly through the connected worlds without ever losing a sense of reality. The overall experience is raw: we are swept into the emotional healing of these innocent victims of war.
Director Jasmine Chen has mounted a solid production of a complex story. The scene changes are smooth, and an effortless cohesion allows the audience to experience both the reality of the Japanese occupation in Manila and the healing needed for future generations to thrive. And music composer Marycarl Guiao must be commended for integrating pre-colonial instruments, including the Lumad kulintang (a vertically hung set of gongs), into the soundscape. The unfamiliar sounds, rhythms, and beats ratchet up the already intense emotion, accelerating our connection with the trauma of war.
While I was initially drawn to the traditional Philippine folklore, legends, and superstitions, it will be the message of Hilot Means Healer that endures with me. The mangihilo in this story teaches us that all of the elements in our body – fire, water, earth and air – must exist in harmony. I listened. I felt. I responded. And I left the theatre feeling a new balance in my energy.
Thank you, Jo, for the gracious invitation.
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What: Hilot Means Healer (World Premiere) by Jo Silalaya Alcampo | presented by Cahoots Theatre in association with b current performing arts | Dramaturgy by Marjorie Chan | Set, Costume & Props Design by Jung-Hye Kim | Lighting Design by Jareth Li | Sound Design by MaryCarl Guiao | Production Management & Technical Direction by Crystal Lee | Stage Management by Victoria Wang | Apprentice Stage Management by Emie Sabandal |Production Assistance by Gloria Mok | Audio Description by Kat Germain| Directed by Jasmine Chen
Performed by Karen Ancheta, Aldrin Bundoc, Belinda Corpuz, Carolyn Fe, and live music by MaryCarl Guiao
When: On stage until October 27, 2019 | running time: 120 minutes (one intermission)
Where: The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator, 1115 Queen St. West, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: cahoots.ca
© Sylvie Webb, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019