by Christa I. De La Cruz
“Sa North Diversion Road” follows a long drive on the major highway of infidelity and, despite the many exits, how one cannot really escape the repercussions of this mistake. Artistang Artlets, the official theater guild of the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Santo Tomas, drives home this point on its production of Tony Perez’ stage play, which was also adapted into a movie by Dennis Marasigan in 2005.
Having watched the film and vaguely remembering reading the stage play years ago, the production directed by AA’s Kristina Magno creates a version that’s altogether different and yet still true to the original piece. They banked on Tony, the composer, as the backbone and main narrator of his story. Appearing in-between scenes, his monologues mirror both nostalgia and regret for taking for granted the wife he eventually lost to death. His parts serve as transitions for the six stories of different couples—his and five other—who all went through the challenges in keeping their own marriages intact and dealing with the huge blow of a partner who cheated. Perez’ play originally presented eight couples, one for each exit along the highway—San Fernandez, Malolos, Baliuag, Meycauayan, Bigaa, Bocaue, Sta. Maria, and Obando. Unlike the movie adaptation wherein actors Irma Adlawan and John Arcilla portrayed all eight, AA’s version uses different actors to showcase the various snippets.
AA also maximizes the use of space in their production. Aside from the makeshift car at the center of the stage, a separated passenger seat and driver’s seat were set on both sides. This experiment on distance and space highlights the tension between the characters. For instance, the first couple sitting side-by-side treat their marriage not as a loving relationship but as an arrangement bound by contract. Side-by-side as if trapped inside the box. Another couple uses the blocking of the separated car set-up—the man was in tears while apologizing to his wife, saying that he will change, and going as far as promising her the sun, the moon, and the stars. They are separated by a distance that they may never eliminate because of an already broken trust. The set design, however, could use some improvement especially for a venue that does not have theater seating.
The latter part of the play brings the adaptation to an interesting light—the characters of the different snippets enter and exit the stage rapidly with lines overlapping, continuing, finishing each other’s sentences. It shows how these couples may or may not be the same characters and may or may not be connected. Just the same, they are all linked in Tony’s flashback type of narration, providing the somber mood of the production and eventually bringing the audience to tears. (I could hear the stifled sobs coming from the crowd inside the Tan Yan Kee Auditorium.)
“Alin ang mas mahalaga—ang katotohanan o ang huwag kang masaktan?” (“Which is more important—the truth or not experiencing pain?”) asks one of the Tonys in the play. “Sa North Diversion Road” gives its audience this cold and painful truth about relationships. It is and never will be a smooth ride down the “North Diversion Road.”
Sa North Diversion Road was staged last September 25-27, 2013 at the Tan Yan Kee Auditorium, Tan Yan Kee Building, University of Santo Tomas. Visit Artistang Artlets on Facebook for updates.
Christa I. De La Cruz is the Public Relations Officer of the Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA) and one of the Associate Editors of Kalatas. She is currently under the Certificate in Creative Writing in Filipino program of the University of the Philippines-Diliman.