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"I Know Who I Am..."

Announcing her own arrival with these words, Donya Gorgonya, "co-owner" of the restaurant Hacienda descends elegantly down the grand staircase to meet her guests. "Mrs G," as she is called by her manikurista, Ampy, is the ostentatious matron typical of upper crust Manila society in the late 80s. Mrs. G refused to see the writing on the wall, so to speak, when People Power erupted on a highway called EDSA in the Philippines.

As an actor playing the part of Donya Gorgonya, the entrance scene described above is (to this day) the most terrifying moment in the play...

The above was a scene in Act Two of Hacienda, the Musical, a play written by Rod Garcia (depicting the revolution of 1986 and the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos). The cast was composed of the resident artists of QBd Ink under the direction of Remé Grefalda. As an actor playing the part of Donya Gorgonya, the entrance scene described above is (to this day) the most terrifying moment in the play. It was not because my entrance signals the arrival of a sinister character, nor is it because the character's indifference and naiveté foolishly dismiss the idea of a revolution. (I still remember family friends who believed at that time that Marcos would return to power.)—I was in terror because I had to balance my weight and move "with elegance" down the staircase of a set elaborately built for the purpose, and I had to display "elegance" on a pair of high heels after spending most of my walking moments snug in reliable Nikes.

I was given the role of the flamboyant wife of Don Bayani (owner of the Hacienda, a fictitious restaurant situated in EDSA) three weeks before the musical opened during the winter of February 1995. The actress originally cast for the role-and for whom Rod Garcia wrote the part-had to back out because of an iskedyul conflict. At the suggestion of the director, I read for the part as a joke. (I had been reading her lines during rehearsals.) But it didn't feel like a joke later on when I was asked "How would you like to play the part?" And give up singing the Power Song as a murderous goon in Act One? No way! "You don't have to," Remé said in all seriousness, "Play both!" With that stroke of genius, I landed dual roles in the play.

For my grand staircase entrance as Donya Gorgonya, four stage hands and two wardrobe mistresses had to be on hand to transform me into a woman...

I played the role of a matron who in an earlier scene was dressed in a moo-moo house dress with hair (wig) in curlers being attended to by a gossipy manikurista (played by Vellie Sandalo Dietrich). I had one foot soaked in a basin of warm water while the other foot, with my toes separated by cotton balls, propped on Vellie's knee and being "worked on." I had to change my growls as a military goon in one role into the whining falsetto of a society matron petulantly ordering her minions around.

For my grand staircase entrance as Donya Gorgonya, four stage hands and two wardrobe mistresses had to be on hand to transform me into a woman, complete with heavy make-up, eye shadow, fake eyelashes, lipstick and a prominently displayed Marilyn-Monroe beauty mole. To top this, I wore a flowing peach-colored gown with a short train which I swished around as I walked "seductively" onstage. Two scenes after this, I stripped backstage to my skivvies to don my camouflage fatigues, wrapped my head in a mean bandana, and strutted onstage with a rifle, growling out my commands with a sneering laugh.

The experience of portraying a woman was both intimidating and gratifying; but the anxiety never left me. How would my friends and family react? Would I be forever typecast? It shocked me when I was told that first-night audiences were saying "Who is that woman?" Even during the curtain call when I donned my Gorgonya wig after acknowledging the role of Esteban, the military thug, people were left wondering "Did he or didn't she...?" It is in the study of portraying these two "extreme" roles that acting became quite a challenge. It is also bonding with the cast and crew that made the production so satisfying all throughout the run.

Before my involvement in Hacienda, the Musical, I thought I knew who I was, but now....

© Josef Villanasco

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