Loneliness and Desire:
A Conversation about Resurrection
What inspired you to write Resurrection?
I’ve always had this idea for a novel about a family who refuses to deal with a daughter’s suicide, thereby destroying their own relationships. I had a lot of false starts but kept working on it for years, until one day it just came out as a play. It sort of found its own medium. I was able to finish it in less than a week.
What are the themes of the play?
Stagnation and renewal, denial and acceptance. Loneliness and desire, my two favorite themes.
What are the subliminal themes of the play?
There is a very subtle reference to the idea of individual morality that Dostoevsky loves to tackle. The lead character, Eduardo, cannot find a way to confess his secret, and becomes self-destructive; in his mind, he must state his “crime,” and he must be punished, otherwise the world would not make sense, because no morals hold true.
What is the significance of the title?
In the play, Eduardo mentions that his late sister was terrified of the idea of resurrection, of coming back to life. Yet resurrection in many guises is nature’s instinct; the seasons come and go, the earth sleeps and awakens again, we suffer grief and eventually (and hopefully) recover. It’s a theme that goes all the way back to Greek and early mythology. In the play, it is more of a question: are these people ever going to find their lives again? Or will they live in a perpetual hell?
Are there any biographical elements in the play?
Nothing I write is purely autobiographical, but my work culls bits and pieces of personal experience and memory as well as stories I hear of and from other people. My sister died when she was 19 (not by suicide but in a swimming accident). How my family and I dealt with years of grieving gave me some material (and, I hope, some wisdom) on grief management. My family had a star apple tree in the backyard. I used it because I’m familiar with the image and some of the basic characteristics of it, which I thought I could use in the play. But to say this is a story about my family would be incorrect. In terms of story, I’m basically a mercenary.
There are a number of biblical references in Resurrection, in addition to the title? Were they deliberate, and how do they fit into the play as a whole? What do they symbolize?
Biblical references seem to come as a matter of course for me, as, being Filipino, I was raised Catholic (and rejected Catholicism at the age of 12). But religion is a cultural birthmark, and one never shakes it off. The only good thing I got from Catholicism is its rich lore of stories and imagery. But I do think any references situate the play in a specific context, and they can provide layers of textual meaning for anyone who cares to dig deeper.
What made you choose to set the play in the Philippines in the summer, when Easter occurs?
In the Philippines, April is the cruelest month, and summer is intolerable. I think the idea that the story occurs around Easter ties neatly with the idea of resurrection. It ties with the idea of confession and redemption after purgatorial suffering. With death and renewal, and possibly hope.
How does the tree symbolize what the play is about?
In the play, Eduardo says the star apple tree is a hermaphrodite, and needs no one (not even love, he says) to fulfill itself. The reference to independence, especially sexual independence, situates the play in a certain context, and points to his conflict. While the tree symbolizes their inability to let go, it also underscores the darkness that is haunting Eduardo, which he needs to get himself out of. The tree is the other “character” in the play, the sister who is no longer there but is still everywhere. It looms over the entire household. This is the idea I had when I insisted that the play open with the image of the tree filling the entire stage. It’s a stifling, overwhelming, ghostly presence, which is why, literally and figuratively, the family has to chop it down.
How does the play break away from or embrace Philippine traditions?
One of the most memorable Philippine plays I’ve ever seen was Lino Brocka’s production of Nick Joaquin’s Larawan (“A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino”), starring the legendary actors Lolita Rodriguez and Charito Solis. It was about two slightly dysfunctional sisters from a well-to-do background who are a little down on their luck. Ever since, I’ve always wanted to write a play like that (and have Brocka direct it—unfortunately, although I eventually met Brocka and I spent the entire day and night with him when People Power drove Marcos out in 1986, he passed away at a young age and my dreams were dashed). I think a lot of Philippine plays more or less follow a template that includes social comment (the term we often use is “social relevance”) and a glorification of Filipino values. I think that’s important, but also limiting.
Also, plays written in English in the Philippines may win awards, but they never get produced, because in the Philippines audiences prefer to watch plays in Filipino, unless they’re Broadway or off-Broadway imports. I wish I could write in Filipino but I can’t. That’s why I focused on fiction and poetry when I was there. But it gave me a chance to seriously mull what I would like to write in case I finally came around to doing it. I continued to write a lot of plays (as well as screenplays), but only recently showed them around when I met theater people in New York like Bing Magtoto, who introduced me to Victor Lirio. In all my writing, I am also interested in the universal connections. I know that psychoanalysis is taboo in the country (one instead goes to a priest for advice), and that denial is a common Filipino (or Catholic or even Latino) dysfunction. I want to look at inner lives and personal conflict, at inner demons and social demons, the way Dostoevsky did. Dostoevsky is my model—to be able to look at the overall social milieu as well as the microscopic emotions of humans, and to be able to somehow say something new and surprising about the human condition—that’s what I hope I would have done with my writing.
You refer to the day Dante enters Hell. Why Dante? What is the importance of this reference, especially on April 7?
The reference is to Dante’s descent in search of the divine, which is personified by Beatrice. Anna is Eduardo’s Beatrice. Just like Beatrice, Anna dies young, and becomes the sole symbol around which Eduardo re-creates his life. In the play, he (and his family) have just descended hell. In this hell, they are the demons and outcasts they will encounter (unlike Dante, who chastised everyone else). The play is a snapshot of this hell. We don’t see the rest of the journey; we don’t know if there will be a Purgatorio or a Paradiso. Maybe, maybe not. Anna wrote the passage in her journal. She was aware that she herself was about to make that descent. But she was going to do it alone (without, alas, her Virgil) and in the end she gave up and decided there was no way out except the way she did it.
What playwrights have influenced your work?
My favorite playwrights are Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Harold Pinter. My writing is also heavily influenced by new cinema, and I learn a lot of radical ways to structure narrative from mavericks like Bela Tarr, Lars von Trier, Andrey Tarkosky, Aleksandr Sokurov, and Michael Haneke, among others. I have this wild idea of merging new and surprising cinematic devices in my writing, whether it’s a book or on stage, and it may or may not work, but as my idol Bernini once said, if you want to create great art, you must not be afraid to break the rules.
This interview was conducted in 2010 by Janet Appel Public Relations LLC, 205 West 54 Street, New York, New York 10019. Press Contact: Janet Appel, 212-2-58-2413,Cell: 917-282-1785