A short review of The Sandbox Collective’s “Himala: Isang Musikal”
Text and photos by Marz Aglipay
Blind faith is a dangerous thing. Ricky Lee’s timeless classic Himala (1982) fleshed out the story of Elsa whose alleged encounter with the Marian spirit spiraled into her cathartic transformation into a sought-after faith healer in the small town of Cupang. Three decades since the film’s release it seems that we need our own Elsa now more than ever as provinces are becoming hotspots for disease outbreaks, you can’t fault anyone for asking for a miracle.
Himala: Isang Musikal has garnered several accolades at the 11th Gawad Buhay Awards for direction, costume, and set-design among others which is more that enough reason to see the play. Its restaging couldn’t have come at a better time.
At the press preview of Himala, Aicelle Stantos reprised her role as Elsa while Sheila Francisco played her adoptive mother Aling Saling
Aling Saling is alternated by seasoned theater actress May Bayot-De Castro who played Elsa in the original stage adaptation of Himala produced by Tanghalang Pilipino. Vic Robinson takes on the role of Pilo who was previously played by Sandino Martin.
The design of the stage compels the audience to rely on their senses to fully experience the play. The seating is arranged to face the center like a four-cornered arena. It may be a challenge to see some parts of the play without obstruction. From where I was seated it was a bit of challenge to watch Elsa emerge from her hut. In spite of this I was able to appreciate the unusual blocking of the play leaving these parts of the story to my imagination.
The audiences senses was challenged by the sweltering appearance of the cast despite that evening’s cool rainy weather. It is made apparent that you are in a barren land experiencing drought just as the performers were. One could occasionally waft the scent of coconut oil, a typical aid among Filipino faith healers and albularyos, rounding the experience of the space by incorporating this minute detail.
Elsa’s ability to heal carries a sliver of hope to the inhabitants and the ill-stricken that fill-up the open space of the theater. It is commendable that with a such a big cast each of the performers were able to interact with Elsa organically. This dynamic between the cast set an environment that is fertile for pregnant pauses filled with moments that allow the audience a chance to digest the events unfolding before them. Sandbox Collective’s Himala: Isang Musikal holds a candle to its cinematic predecessor.