MINUS the stage, plays can also be appreciated. This is what Stage Presence: The Philippine PEN Anthology of Drama (UST Publishing House, 2008), a compilation of plays touching on issues about the family, cultural beliefs and identity, romance and politics, written by seasoned and budding playwrights, proves.

Edited by Palanca award-winning playwright, Jose Victor Torres, who teaches at the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters and Graduate School, Stage Presence notes that though a play is not considered complete unless the dialogue is spoken and the story acted out on stage, its text is of equal significance and pride.

“A play should not stop with a performance. A play must also be disseminated to the public as a text in order for it to be studied and be even more appreciated,” Torres said.

“First Snow of November” by Alfonso Dacanay, is about a 70-year-old Filipino with recurrent memory lapse living in a Chicago nursing home who tries his dead-earnest to be of some use to others. Dacanay’s use of common Filipino expressions and humor will certainly keep the readers grounded to the plot. This heart-warming play, adapted from Bienvenido N. Santos’ short story “The Day the Dancers Came,” won first prize in the One-Act Play category of the Palanca Awards in 2005.

“Children of the Sun,” by Glenn Sevilla Mas, offers a slice of life of fishermen on Caluya Island in Antique. The play exhibits the struggles of the families the fishermen leave behind when they are off to sea. Because of the setting of the story, the characters contain expressions in Kinaray-a, Antique’s native tongue. This could slightly hinder the readers from understanding the actors’ dialogues. Even so, the playwright displays the ability to fuse faith and family in a compelling story.

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The third play sets itself apart with its theme of cultural identity. Debbie Ann Tan’s “Dragon Blood” traces the story of a Chinese-Filipino mestiza being rescued from the darkness of her identity by a blind but wise Chinese man.

Torres’ “No Questions Asked” depicts the difficulty and drawbacks of a long-distance relationship and the power of fate in providing a person with love when he least expects it. In 12 scenes, Torres gives an adequately comprehensive exploration of each character in the play, exposing their motives.

Exploring the political is Malou Jacob’s “A Significant Life,” a three-act play about a professor of the University of the Philippines who joins a social movement during the Martial Law era and realized later that he has failed to effect change in his country and his own family.

Ringing the curtains down to the volume is Palanca Hall of Famer Nicolas Pichay, a playwright and lawyer, who effectively uses the fusion of chants and dialogues to tell the story of an Ifugao maiden in search of her love and honor in “The Slanting Dance of the Buliklik Hawks.”

Stage Presence is aptly diverse in its attempts to capture the various facets of human relations, and if there is anything to trouble its reader, perhaps it’s only the matter of language. As is unavoidable, at times, when another language is used to describe a context which occurs in another tongue, a certain awkwardness plagues the page. But all in all, Stage Presence succeeds in renewing our appreciating of drama, whether on or off stage.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Philippine PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists), founded by Thomasian and National Artist F. Sionil Jose, in cooperation with the UST Publishing House, is publishing several PEN anthologies. Stage Presence is the follow-up to the first two anthologies launched, A Different Voice: Fiction by Young Filipino Writers (2007) and At Home in Unhomeliness: An Anthology of Philippine Postcolonial Poetry in English (2007) edited by Vince Groyon and Neil Garcia, respectively. Agnes Ruth Diana S. Bordado

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