Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Why GRACE has powerful impact on me

Having grown up in Lipa, in this Carmel, having been blessed with a Carmelite nun as spiritual mother for 32 years, I thought I was quite familiar with this controversy...but then...

Due to big demand, ‘Grace’ has been extended to another weekend.

Grace runs at PMCS Blackbox Theater, Circuit Makati, June 15 (3pm, 8pm), June 16 (3pm, 8pm), with extended run to June 23 (3pm, 8pm). http://ticket2me.net/event/21816

Yesterday (June 8) on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I received the wonderful privilege and grace of experiencing a magnificent piece of theater, GRACE.

GRACE is the swan song of Palanca-award-winning playwright Floy Quintos. It melds historical fact and fiction in a two-hour-30 minute retelling of the events surrounding the supposed apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Carmelite Monastery of Lipa, Batangas, in 1948, and the maelstrom that ensued when devotees flocked to Carmel in tens of thousands.

Having grown up in Lipa and in this Carmel, in particular, and having been blessed with a Carmelite nun as spiritual mother for 32 years, I thought I was quite familiar with this controversy from a young age. I had heard testimonies first-hand, I had worn Our Lady’s medal hidden underneath my clothes,  and kept her image in secret, for it was forbidden to promote devotion to her at that time.

But it has never really profoundly impacted me, as watching GRACE had done. This masterpiece compelled me to vicariously endure the persecution of the nuns, the confusion and perhaps crisis of faith of Sister Teresing, the visionary, and her Prioress Mother Cecilia, the moral torment of the priest investigator, while allowing me to likewise walk in the ultra-right-wing shoes of the Apostolic Nuncio, whose adamant rejection of the apparitions silenced the nuns and quelled the propagation of devotion to Mary Mediatrix of All Grace (… or so he thought).

The writing is a masterclass—well-researched facts juxtaposed against speculative fiction that is not far-fetched at all, and laced with humor delivered in a fairly accurate Batangueño accent. It is quite difficult to discern where fact ends and where fiction begins, but I suspect that artistic license was invoked in the how’s and why’s, in the tumultuous internal dialogues of the main characters, in exploring possible motives for their choices and stance, in the difficult conversations between them whose record no one was privy to, and to the complexities of Church politics at that time.

What I appreciate most about Quintos’ writing is how he dared to ask the hard-hitting thoughtful questions, and how he laid out arguments for or against the authenticity of the apparitions in such an intelligent manner. Themes of patriarchy, colonialism, the status of women in the Church and in society, and how these may have been critical in the final verdict on Lipa, were woven into the fabric of the play in ways that are so thought-provoking that they deserve a separate discussion.

Furthermore, no character is black or white, no nun is a cardboard caricature of holiness, no villain is merely dark and devious. Each character is fully human, whose deepest recesses need to be searched to be understood, whose actions could hide layers of both the noble and the vain, whose sins could be the product of both self-righteous conceit, or of self-deceit. Villains are gray.

The performances of these actors that were handpicked by the playwright himself were breathtaking. Sharmaine Buencamino’s movements and mannerisms as Mother Cecilia reminded me of my own Carmelite spiritual mother. Nuns who have lived their entire lives in the cloister move a certain way, and Buencamino nailed this peculiarity. Leo Rialp as Apostolic Nuncio Msgr. Vagnozzi was superlative, as he seamlessly navigated three languages—Latin, Italian, and English—all in one breath, in one sentence, from start to finish. The last two scenes—Vagnozzi’s monologue and Teresing’s final act—were a tour de force that left the sold-out crowd and myself stunned, shaken, speechless.

Now cue in the effusive applause, the full standing ovation, and the spontaneous flow of tears.

About author

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She is an endocrinologist who sometimes writes about her passions outside of the medical profession.

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