Understanding the Angry Christ

Understanding the Angry Christ. Written by Jervis Manahan for SubSelfie.com.

I am no theatre critic, but I’ve seen every single production of Dulaang UP since its 33rd season—that’s more or less 30 plays. There were hits and misses, but hands down, Angry Christ easily ranks as one of the most enigmatic and beautiful.

I would admit, for each Dulaang UP season, it is Sir Dexter Santos’ offering that I look most forward to. He never failed in delivering visually-stunning, edgy, and powerful productions. There were no dragging parts and every minute shows masterful direction.

Dulaang UP closes its 41st season with Angry Christ—the fourth collaboration between Dexter Santos and Floy Quintos, an award-winning and well-renowned playwright. Each of their collaboration seems to be magical. My two other favorite DUP plays, The Collection and Ang Nawalang Kapatid, were also their masterpieces.

Unveiling the Mysterious Painting

Churchgoers would know that most images of Jesus Christ were of a loving man. The most common representation, the Crucifix, depicts him as the Savior, nailed on the cross with arms outstretched and a bloody torso. While there are biblical accounts of Jesus Christ being angry (like when people converted the temple into a market, in Matthew 21:12), he was never pictured like that. For most of us who grew as Christians, Jesus Christ was a gentle, quiet man.

That is the most baffling part of Angry Christ. Set in 1950, the play revolves around world-class painter Alfonso Ossorio, who after studying in the United States, returned to Victorias, Negros Occidental. Finding himself amidst the struggle of the sakadas, Ossorio painted a larger-than-life mural of the Last Judgment to entice prayers from the farmers.

The painting’s centerpiece was also of Jesus with outstretched arms, but it isn’t your typical image. With details like serpents, skulls, a perplexing facial expression, and calloused extremities, Ossorio’s artwork of Christ will haunt you more than it will comfort you.

In comparison, the famous Sistine Chapel in Vatican also has a painting of The Last Judgment in its sanctuary. Legends have it that the College of Cardinals had to stare on the painting whenever they enter the chapel to elect a new Pope. Ossorio’s Angry Christ is a very different rendition of the Last Judgment, with the Sistine’s version more heavenly, and therefore more acceptable to the Catholic community.

Taking the Theatre to Greater Heights

For this production, Sir Dexter played with highly interesting themes—art history, religion, and class struggle. All these are ingeniously intertwined in a story brought to life by seasoned actors Nel Gomez and Kalil Almonte.

The play has a rich narration of Ossorio’s multi-layered struggles and motivations. Why he chose to paint an eccentric image of Jesus is slowly unraveled in each scene, deliberately crafted with beautiful dialogue. It’s no easy task to mount a period play with such profundity and wisdom. And I was never disturbed by a performance more than Angry Christ did.

What made the play even more fascinating were the imagined characters. While it was based on a real story, the playwright invoked artistic license to add more elements. The fictional meeting between Ossorio and Negrense labor leader Jose Nava were among the most powerful parts of the story, because it contextualizes the art discourse to the sakada struggles in the Philippine post-war era.

Using a lecturer as a device to move the story forward also made it interactive, as it opened with her breaking the fourth wall. Also, a few more plus points for trying to decode some incomprehensible inscriptions in the artwork, ala-Da Vinci Code.

The lighting, musical score, and choreography were also skillfully done, thanks to a highly creative team of students and professional thespians. Lighting techniques that completely drowned the colors of the mural, a gorgeous mix of music from classic Christmas carols to the wooden clacker of Semana Santa, to spectacular scene transitions—all these combined produced an enchanting play that is Angry Christ.

That is how DUP stands out over other theatre institutions. Others may have a wider audience and a bigger budget, but DUP’s productions are more ‘soulful’ as the labor of love of everyone behind each show resonates in the stage.

To experiment with a rather unpopular theme is very brave of Dulaang UP. Deviating from the classics, the UP Playwrights’ Theater continues to churn out original works deserving of a world premiere, and which certainly, in time, will be gems in the Philippine art scene.

In the end, Angry Christ leaves every viewer with more questions than answers. And that is why it’s worth another watch.

About the Author

Jervis Manahan.

Jervis Manahan is a News Reporter for PTV 4. He is a Contributor for SubSelfie.com and part of the original roster that founded the site. He was previously a News Writer for 24 Oras and Unang Balita and a News Researcher for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. Broadcast Communication 2012, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.

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