IS COCKFIGHTING something to crow about?

The centuries-old gambling sport is tackled in Something to Crow About, adapted from the short story, My Brother’s Peculiar Chicken, written by National Artist Alejandro Roces. The production was staged last May 22 at the Tanghalang Yamang Lahi of the Emilio Aguinaldo College in Manila.

Directed by National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) executive director Cecille Guidote-Alvarez, Something to Crow About revolves around Kiko, a cockfight enthusiast who has an androgynous chicken he uses to defeat Don Fausto, the richest man in town. Don Fausto loses P10,000 to Kiko but refuses to pay. As a result, Kiko’s wife, Rufina, throws Kiko out of their house. Kiko then sues Don Fausto but the court rules against him. Kiko takes his case to the Supreme Court, which overrules the decision and orders Don Fausto to pay Kiko P20,000, reuniting him with his wife.

Another interesting character in the musical is Leandro, Kiko’s brother and an aspiring writer in love with the rich girl, Luningning. Their Romeo-and-Juliet love story is complicated by Ben Golem, the rich suitor of Luningning, which later leads to an arnis duel between Leandro and Golem.

The cast came from professional theater groups as well as the urban poor, out-of-school children and the Earthsavers Dreams Ensemble, a theatrical group of indigenous youth. For the zarzuela, the NCCA worked with the UST Conservatory of Music through Dean Raul Sunico.

Prof. Eugene delos Santos of the Conservatory of Music and soprano Anna Feleo played the roles of Padre Quesada and Rufina, respectively, while the UST Liturgikon Choir, provided backup vocals.

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The UST Symphony Orchestra and the NCCA Kalahi Rondalla, meanwhile, provided musical accompaniment to the lyrics and music written by Ferdinand Dimadura, a young Bicolano composer.

“The play showcases Filipino cultural color, and shows the weaknesses and virtues of our culture,” Alvarez said.

The zarzuela shows several colorful Filipino festivals like the Higantes, Flores de Mayo and Ati-Atihan. Moreover, it sheds light on the Filipino’s Catholic faith, their moral beliefs, their customs, and their sense of justice.

“I think it touched the audience. They were amazed of the colors and the show opened up all kinds of insights from gambling to justice,” said Alvarez. “It is a way of bringing together people and affirm kinship.”

Roces, evaluated the zarzuela based on his fiction. “It’s very good, but we still have lots to improve on,” he said. The zarzuela will be staged at La Mama, an experimental theater in New York later this year. “I want the zarzuela to be played on Broadway,” Roces said.

But why highlight cockfighting? Roces said he is fond of cockpits because of the unique attitude of the people there.

“It’s the most honest place! Walang dayaan!” he said. Roces argued that cockfighters are honest people and do not cheat on their word, which is “as good as gold.”

Roces was named National Artist for Literature in 2003 for his efforts to promote the country’s colorful celebrations, like the Moriones and the Ati-Atihan, through essays about Philippine festivities, compiled in the book titled Fiesta; and humorous Filipino short stories like My Brother’s Peculiar Chicken.

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The zarzuela was staged during the 31st UNESCO-International Theater Institute World Congress. The audience included UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura, who was recently conferred the degree doctor of laws, honoris causa, by UST.

Indeed, in the fast-paced world of electronics, some things like cockfighting are often overlooked. Something to Crow About puts new color and hue to the staples of Filipino life, among them the game many Filipinos get cocky to play.

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