Review by Hannah Louise Pascua; Photos by Irvin Arénas
The universe has not been kind to Maria Rosa Luna Henson, the first Filipina who shared her story of being a comfort woman for the Imperial Army during the Second World War. She was raped, forced to became a sex slave in her younger years, left by the love of her life for other woman, lost a beloved daughter, and died without receiving the justice she’s been fighting for.
To close the 27th season, UP Playwright’s Theatre stages ‘Nana Rosa,’ following Henson’s nine months of nightmare as a comfort woman for the Japanese army during World War II. The play is under Jose Estrella’s direction and Rody Vera’s words.
Watching “Nana Rosa” is a unique opportunity to delve into her excruciating journey that I felt privileged to be an audience to. It is bold, uncensored, and courageous. I saw myself saluting at her grave unendingly as I understood her struggle.
Nana Rosa (alternately portrayed by accomplished actresses Upeng Galang Fernandez and Peewee
O’Hara) kept her story a secret between herself and her diary or letters; just as what her mother
wanted. Her fear of being judged and living her life together with the ghosts that haunted her through the years led her to decide to bury her dark past.
Different ‘pasts’ of Henson were presented beyond her time as a comfort woman. There are some things worth remembering while others are too dark urging ourselves to just forget—that time, Nana Rosa knew that remembering what she had been through is an act of courage and a necessary thing to do.
50 years after that life changing experience would she decide to tell her story after hearing a radio announcement finding Filipino comfort women spearheaded by the Task Force on Filipina Women in 1992, after Kim Hak Sun of South Korea told her story.
Henson’s painful journey was emotionally moving. Beyond being a woman, being a grandchild myself greatly affected how I see elderly women. I live with my grandmother and seeing how fragile she is reminds me of the gravity of Nana Rosa’s struggles, apart from the pains brought by aging no human being should be dealt with a fate as harsh as hers. As much as I refuse to accept the fact that humans like them exist, whispering behind me are the trembling voices of the Lolas in the audience discussing what they have been through and still seeking for the elusive justice up to this day.
UP Playwright’s Theatre leaves a note on the audiences’ mind that they should never forget the past for it may become their answer for the future.