Opening at Ateneo’s Rizal Mini Theater, Ardór is the latest production from Tanghalang Ateneo. Written and directed by award-winning wordsmith Guelan Varela-Luarca, this centerpiece of the company’s 45th season is a knowing parable about the ongoing struggle for social change. Potent, poignant, and unflinchingly provocative, the play tells the story of a future where the government’s failure to uphold public trust has led Filipinos to—once again—rise in defiance.
“I’ve been here many times before,” Varela-Luarca told PhilSTAR L!fe at the Ardór press night. “But this play is special. I wrote this in the middle of the pandemic, stuck at home, with anxiety and all those things. So this is like a snapshot of who I was back in 2020, and how [I'd like to think] it is also a reflection of how most of us felt during that time. I feel like I'm honoring that time with this unapologetic, unbridled paean to wrath, anger, frustration.”
The story opens in an unspecified future, where the so-called “indigo child” Kali (Cholo Ledesma) rages against the injustices of the government. Precocious beyond his years, Kali possesses enough diatribes against the abuse of power to fill any number of manifestos, along with a propensity to emphasize his points in an incendiary fashion. Far removed from the conflict, Kali’s cousin, Z (Yani Lopez), tries to make peace with her activist past through art. Her existence is disrupted when Kali implores her to join his crusade against the forces holding their country back.
Reluctantly returning to a life she thought long behind her, Z reconnects with Astrid (Camille Banawa), an activist and former paramour who is currently in a relationship with rebel officer Luther (Kagi Umpad). But even with sparks still lingering between the two old flames, Z, Astrid, and Kali will discover how far they’re willing to go to defend their ideologies, their nation, and, ultimately, themselves.
From the opening moments, Ardór is unabashedly, defiantly angry. The story may take place in a dystopian tomorrow, but the characters’ frustrations are terrifyingly contemporary and all too familiar in our nation’s history. Fittingly, this was Varela-Luarca’s intention from the beginning, spurred on by a combination of the months-long lockdown, and the “One Big Strike” academic protest movement that took place in November 2020.
“I've always had this impression that anger is looked down upon, [people see] anger as immature and unproductive. Now, that may be true, but at the same time, you can’t change things, you can’t aspire for things without that fire. And so I think anger is holy,” he said.
Fire plays a central role in the play, consuming those on either side of the conflict while cutting a bloody swath through those caught in the middle. In the world of Ardór, much like ours, the battle between government corruption and those who oppose it affects everyone, whether they admit it or not. As the character actively causes the bulk of (literal and figurative) conflagrations, Kali’s self-righteousness is jarring in its ruthlessness, especially when juxtaposed against the moments of innocence that emerge when his façade cracks.
As would-be non-combatant Z at the press night performance, Lopez took the audience through a gamut of emotions in her character’s journey from resigned apathy to full-on dissident. It’s a portrayal that invites the audience to partake in her anger, rather than be alienated by it. As the play reaches its denouement, all eyes are on this woman who has been failed in every way by those closest to her, and Lopez makes it impossible to look away.
“The world of the play isn’t very far from the society we’re living in,” said Lopez. She shared that while the story required the actors to let go of their real selves to really dive into the characters, their job as performers was to make the audience confront their own reality, and, hopefully, make them consider what the next steps would, could, or should be.
Inasmuch as it can be said that Ardór’s themes are timely and relevant, it shouldn’t be forgotten just how or why the story of resilience against corruption is nigh synonymous with the Filipino experience—if not the experience itself. With no one accountable, one can only hope that, if enough plays like this are made, someone, somewhere, will get angry enough to work for a Philippines where such narratives are no longer needed.
Ardór will be performed at 7:00 p.m. on Aug. 18, 25, 26, and on Sept. 1, 2, 8, and 9. There will be 2:00 p.m. performances on Aug. 26 and Sept. 2. For tickets, you may contact Tanghalang Ateneo Season 45 Marketing Coordinator Deon Lumauig at 0961-286-3712.