Text and photos by Marz Aglipay
We first encounter John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” often as required high school reading. It is a tale of a mentally challenged man and his keeper who stay together despite the economic challenges that hinder them from pursuing their dreams. Tanghalang Pilipino invites us to revisit Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” to see how this story remains relevant in this day and age.
For the longest time Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) envisioned mounting an adaptation of the Steinbeck classic. It took 9 years to realize that vision, in which time its actors have grown familiar to the text. When the production decided to include this play in their 33rd season, TP’s Artistic Director Nanding Josef invited actress-writer-producer, Bibeth Orteza to translate the material adding local flavor to the play.
The peculiar title of the play, “Katsuri” is a Hiligaynon term for a shrew-like rat that is not quite rodent. “The Sakada is almost rodent, almost mouse, hardly human. [Although] not anymore” Orteza said in an explanation of the term. The adaptation deals with concepts that Hacienderos and Sakada or laborers (usually sugar cane workers) are all too familiar with such as “Tiempo Muerto” which refers to a dead time where farmers spend time away from the fields in search for other streams of income; Or similarly “Tigkiriwi” a period of famine where the working classes’ resources are limited with little to no means to make ends meet.
Katsuri shines a light on individualism and apathy among its multiple themes. In the adaptation the story follows two farm hands George and Toto (originally Lennie in the English version), the later who is a big framed mentally disabled man, as they are forced to leave their jobs from Hacienda Luisita and journey back to their hometown in Negros Occidental at the height of famine.
The story being set in Bacolod couldn’t be more relatable to Filipino audiences at the height of impunity and mass killings that plague farmers. The premise itself may strike a nerve among those familiar with the Hacienda Culture, a type of plantation management where land owners resort to inhumane treatment of their farmers, is explored in part by Katsuri.
The term “Katsuri” is the translator’s agency of describing the reality of the Sakada. As early as 1985 farmers in Negros have been susceptible to impunity, seeing no justice served for the Escalante massacre where protesters mostly laborers and urban poor civilians who protested the 13th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law were gunned down, followed by the Sagay Massacre in 2018 and most recently, in July of this year yet another mass killing of farmers led to a threat of Martial Law in Negros Occidental.
Katsuri also honors the memory of Bernardino “Toto” Patigas, Escalante City Councilor and former secretary-general of the Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights who was assassinated prior the elections. TP Artistic Director Nanding Josef who is also part of the play as “Tatang” shared that they were in talks with Patigas for their team’s research immersion in Bacolod that was called off upon learning of what had happened to Patigas. In his memory, Orteza found it fitting to name Lennie after him in her effort to localize even the names of the characters for Katsuri.
“Dahil sa nangyayari ngayon sa Bacolod. Truth had no choice, Truth begged that the adaptation be written in such manner” (Because of what is happening in Bacolod. Truth had no choice, Truth begged that the adaptation be written in such a manner.) says Orteza. The production is well aware of the political undertones that “Katsuri” carries that are likely to be censored if it were staged in a province such as Negros. Manilenos will have a theatrical experience that aspires to give them a glimpse of the tribulations of laborers and the poor. In spite of the burden of portraying real life through fiction in a time of post-truth, Tanghalang Pilipino stands firm in their effort as actors to bring justice in their portrayals of an oppressed minority.