For playwright and theater director Jose Jeffrey Camañag, it’s not Judas’ betrayal of Jesus that makes him the ultimate bad guy.
That one of the disciples would cause the downfall of his own master is part and parcel of God’s “grand design” for the salvation of humanity, said Camañag.
Whether to follow such divine plan or stick to their own course is the dilemma that hounds every character in Daan ng Krus, a two-hour passion musical staged by Teatro Mensaheros and the Valenzuela City Center for the Performing Arts at the Valenzuela People’s Park Amphitheater evenings of April1 and 2. Camañag was the librettist and director.
For instance, Camañag said, Mary Magdalene begins as a prostitute but would later become one of Jesus’ believers. Peter, wanting to save himself from people’s persecution and arrest by authorities, denies knowing Jesus three times but repents in the end. Mary knows full well the dangers of challenging the religious status quo in Israel and could have kept her son from doing so, but she never did.
“Pero si Judas, ang ginawa niya, nagpakamatay pa siya, kinuha pa niya ang pinakamagandang regalo ng Diyos sa kanya, ang buhay niya (But what Judas did, he killed himself, putting to waste the greatest gift God gave him, his own life),” said Camañag.
“Minsan, akala natin, hirap na hirap na tayo, parang hindi na tayo inintindi ng Diyos. Pero kung ikukumpara ‘yon sa hirap ni Christ, parang wala iyon, ni katiting (Sometimes, problems could weigh us down and we think God has forsaken us. But side by side the pain Jesus bore, our own pain is nothing) said Camañag.
“If you will just accept everything and follow God’s will, you will realize that grand design and its beauty,” said Camanag.
This beauty is what Daan attempted to present audiences, through pop songs and jazz dance.
Daan began as a cenaculo, a traditional play depicting the cross-bearing Christ's route to Golgotha where he would be crucified with two convicts, performed along a street instead of onstage. Camañag’s grandfather was the progenitor of the cenaculo held during Lent in the San Antonio de Padua Parish in Cavite City.
Camañag took the helm in 1993 and initiated changes, reinventing the street play into a 30-minute musical with eight songs. Younger brother Roeder, who is now a theater celebrity, would begin his essay of Jesus.
In 2008, Daan was first performed in Valenzuela City in observance of the Holy Week. It later expanded into a full-length, 28-song musical in 2009.
Since then, the passion musical has gained renown as what Camañag calls a “sang-through”, a form where spoken lines are scant and the story told largely through songs. Jesse Lucas would provide the music to Camañag’s libretto, which, despite the music’s pop flavor, retained a classical diction.
“I think for us Filipinos, mas madaling lenggwahe sa atin ang musika (I think for us Filipinos, music is an easier language to understand),” said Camañag.
In a 2013 interview, Camañag said the sang-through format also proved appealing to an audience whose attention span has become shorter.
For instance, “Magpuri sa Kalangitan” seamlessly strings together scenes from the annunciation – the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to the savior – through the adult Jesus beginning to assemble the disciples, and does it in around four minutes.
Prior to the Amphitheater, Daan had been perfomed at the Valenzuela City Auditorium, where most of the audience are students of the city government-run Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Valenzuela. The Auditorium is now being renovated.
The move to a bigger venue – the Amphitheater can seat 2,000 − inspired but a single adjustment, one that involves blockings, or the positions of the actors onstage. Otherwise, Daan – from narrative to stage set – remains unchanged from the 2009 version.
Piquing curiosity of audiences through the years is Daan’s cleverly designed set which consists of sliding panels. Like Japanese fusuma doors, panels would part and dramatically let in a character, among its other varied, creative uses.
Camañag said he wanted the panels to mimic the camera movements in a film, the way a camera would pan, tilt, or track through a scene.
Most of all, the panels stands for “the walls that cage us,” Camañag said. “Kailangan nating kumawala sa mga walls na iyon. Jesus always break those walls (We have to get out of the walls. It’s Jesus who always break those walls).
Daan ng Krus. Produced by Teatro Mensaheros and the Valenzuela City Center for the Performing Arts last April 1-2, 2015. Venue: Valenzuela People’s Park Amphitheater. Written, choreographed, and directed by Jose Jeffrey Camañag. Cast: Roeder Camañag as Hesus; Tex Ordonez as Maria; Lodie Atis as Magdalena; Rommel Arata as Hudas; Ronald Concepcion as Pedro; Christopher Dy-tioco as Barabas; Cyrel Balderama as Satanas; Jhilon Biais as Poncio Pilato; actors from Teatro Mensahero and the Valenzuela City Center for the Performing Arts as the ensemble. Musical direction by Jesse Lucas. Production Design by Darwin Dizon and Darby Dizon. Lighting design by Michael King Urrieta. Dance coaching by Arnie Umayam.