(Source: Philippine Inquirer -- www.inquirer.net -- 11-27-99)


Joaquin's 'Portrait' now a classic

By Ambeth R. Ocampo

(Editor's Note: The INQUIRER countdown to the end of the 20th century on Dec. 31, 1999 celebrates with a procession of native artifacts that speak of the nobility and pride of the Filipino race.)

FIRST published as ''an elegy in three scenes'' in the Women's Weekly Magazine in 1952, Nick Joaquin's play Portrait of the Artist as Filipino eventually ended up in book form in 1952, 1966, and 1979.

Considered the most important Filipino play in English and one of the pioneers of realism in Philippine theater, Portrait has been translated into Filipino twice: By Alfred Yuson in 1969, and recently by Bienvenido Lumbera in 1992. Called Larawan in Filipino, Joaquin's play has taken on a new life under many directors who include: Lino Brocka (1979), Behn Cervantes (1982), Nonon Padilla (1989), and Anton Juan (1993).

It is in film that the play has been preserved in the original English. Lamberto V. Avellana (1915­1991) artistic director of the Barangay Theater Guild first staged Portrait in 1955 and directed the film of the same title 10 years later with Daisy H. Avellana and Naty Crame­Rogers playing the lead roles of Candida and Paula. Screened in the Frankfurt Film Festival in 1967, Portrait is now considered a classic.

In 1976 Nick Joaquin was declared National Artist for Literature and Lamberto Avellana National Artist for Film and Theater.


Joaquin's synopsis of the play further shortened to fit the available space in today's Countdown goes:

''Bitoy Camacho, an old friend of the Marasigans, pays them a visit one afternoon after many years of absence. He is greeted by the two daughters of Lorenzo Marasigan, a famous painter, who in his declining years has been living in isolation and abject poverty. Recently, he finished his latest and perhaps last major work of art, a painting he entitled Portrait of the Artist as Filipino. The sisters Paula and Candida welcome Bitoy. They reminisce about the past and the good old days . . . Tony Javier, a young musician renting a room in the house, comes home from work and is surprised . . . Tony confides to Bitoy . . . his frustrated efforts in convincing the sisters to sell the painting to an American client.

Act II

''In the second act, Don Lorenzo is visited by Manolo and Pepang--the older brother and sister of Candida and Paula. They plan to transfer their father to a hospital and sell the house. They have invited Don Perico, a senator . . . to convince their younger sisters. Don Perico appeals to both sisters to donate the painting to the government in exchange for a handsome pension that would relieve them of their burden. The sisters remain firm and indifferent . . . during the debate the senator is forced to examine his life realizing too late that he has betrayed his true vocation as an artist--poet . . . Forlorn and devastated by remorse, [the senator] bids the sisters farewell.

''Manolo and Pepang quarrel with their younger sisters . . . [who] are forced to reveal why their father painted the picture. They had confronted him a year before, and in pain accused him of having wasted their lives. As a reaction he painted his last work of art and then attempted to commit suicide.

''Alone Candida . . . tells Paula of her frustration in job seeking. Tony Javier rushes in with news about his American client who has doubled his offer [for the painting] . . . In a moment of weakness, Paula abandons the house and joins Tony.

Act lll

''The third act begins with Bitoy remembering the Octobers of his youth and the feast of La Naval de Manila . . . A group of visitors to the Marasigan home inquire about rumors that the painting and Paula have disappeared forcing Candida to admit what happened and accuses herself of masterminding the crime . . . Paula enters and admits to having destroyed the portrait. Crushed, Tony accuses the two women of condemning him back to poverty . . . He leaves cursing them. In the meanwhile the two sisters reconcile . . . and reaffirm their decision to remain in the house with their father . . . Bitoy in a monologue ends the play with a prayer deciding to dedicate his life to the preservation of Intramuros and its historical past through art and memory.''