[FEATURE] Jean Genet’s “Prisoner of Love”

Once again, Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas outdid their previous productions. I’m still shockingly in awe of the whole production.

I’m only in my second year in college but I’ve already been exposed to the wonders of theater a few years before I entered UP. Even so, all the DUP plays I’ve watched never disappointed me. They all had me hanging on to every exchange of the characters., had me crying at the sheer awe I felt for the talents of these amazing individuals who came together to stage these wonderful live acts. Had me laughing at the shockingly vulgar vocabularies of some characters. Had me feeling goosebumps rising on my skin from beginning ’til the curtain call.

But perhaps, the most important feeling that DUP plays had always ignited in me is the deep understanding of revolutionaries and their stories, their reasons, their strengths and weaknesses, the peak of their lives and the fall of their battles.

Bilanggo ng Pag-ibig’s playbill. I didn’t plan on buying because I really was close to reaching the limit of my wallet (lol) but I JUST HAD TO!

This season’s final offering, Bilanggo ng Pag-ibig–there is something in this stage that clutched at my heart. It was just so magnificent and words aren’t enough to describe the sublime feeling I felt the whole time.

I admit that prior to watching the play, I didn’t know the main character Jean Genet. I wasn’t aware of his works; certainly not aware of Prisoner of Love, his last masterpiece and the novel where the play was mostly based on.

Bilanggo ng Pag-ibig tells the story of novelist revolutionary Jean Genet and his experiences during his time with the Palestinian Liberation Army and the “Black Panthers”, as well as his numerous affairs in his life. The whole play was told in snippets of conversation (read: arguments) and travels with his dear friend Leila Shahid while Genet stubbornly battles his throat cancer and Leila’s attempts to get him treated long enough to finish his last novel, Prisoner of Love. The whole story was also full of peaks into live depictions of the events in Prisoner of Love.

The play was timely with its show dates, with all the problems and controversies that rose with the long-running war between Palestine and Israel. It felt like I was watching the siege against Gaza last year, felt like I was peeking into the lives and the truth behind the nameless faces of the victims of war.

Genet was a very unique individual: his views on love, religion, deception, and lust; his string of lovers whom he all left impacted and a little bruised and battered at the corners (except, perhaps, Abdallah because he’s more than bruised and battered *cough*he’s dead*cough*he committed suicide*cough*). All of these and more created a hella fine blizzard of live art and
I   j u s t    c a n ‘ t    m o v e    o n.

(And it was more than just  h e l l a   f i n e )

I won’t talk much about the power of Genet with his revolutionary ideas, but his anecdotes leaves much to be thought of and analyzed and evaluated. Genet wasn’t your typical revolutionary with golden and exemplary intentions and passion about freedom and all, and he wasn’t built of sob stories.

He was a thief, a vagabond, a prostitute. He was gay. But he was a brilliant man behind these labels.

Besides the reflection of the war between Palestine and Israel then and now, perhaps what shook me the most was the themes about love and homosexuality.

Genet had a lot of lovers, and he certainly had a unique way with dealing with his romantic excursions.

The first lover he had that was introduced in the play was Abdallah, a circus performer who walked on a tightrope.

The way that Genet was captivated by Abdallah captivated me too, as a member of the audience. Actually, it was the “love story” that struck me the most. A lot of people would have said, “Their love, if it could still be called that, was fucked up and that’s it.”

Yes, it was fucked up. But I think it was also realistic as fuck.

I think, it wasn’t that Genet didn’t love Abdallah anymore. But when Abdallah became crippled, I saw him (and perhaps, Genet too) as a once-beautiful porcelain figurine weathered by the years and the numerous falls it took. Abdallah was that beautiful, shiny figurine–a trinket of Genet–which turned brittle, lackluster, until it finally broke.

Abdallah without his performances was an idle tool waiting for rust to settle in. Genet seemed to me like someone who could not–should not–be tied down to one place, and perhaps to an extent, to one person who can’t lug around wherever his passion and curiosity leads him.

Their story was tragic but it made me think: How beautiful could it be, to lose yourself so much to someone that that person becomes your purpose? How much of a push, a shove, could it be to let everything go and just be for someone?

On another note, I was totally enamored by the way they realistically portrayed homosexuality and scenes of “encounters” between the same sex.

With theater, there’s just no holding back, isn’t it?
I loved that.

Guys really kissed–and more than that, in my teenager-y vocabulary, they made out and I loved how they didn’t coddle the audience with censorship for the people who might have been uncomfortable.

Though in turn, I was severely disappointed to all the uncultured people who openly “Eww-ed” at all those scenes where the actors who portrayed Jean Genet and Jacky Maglia were engaged in intense liplock and faux gay sex, or the scene where the Israeli soldiers pretended to be transsexual prostitutes.

It made me realize that while my university boasts of widespread “freedom” and “open-mindedness”, some people just boast about it as a “front”, like a badge that just fuels more of the “holier than thou” mindset that some undeserving fellow students of mine have.

I’m aware that not everyone accepts homosexuality and even the slightest displays of affection between the same sex, but they should have been also well-aware that artists of all forms (especially in theater) do not perform or deliver to suck up to the audience, but to make the spectators feel and perhaps understand and learn. They should also be aware that this lack of censorship should be celebrated instead of scorned.

Being abstained from censorship these days is a rare privilege.

And I’m so glad to have the privilege to be exposed and be able to watch such beautiful art forms, happy at how accessible and well-supported culture is in the environment I’m in.

Watching Bilanggo ng Pag-ibig was like a wake up call.

Our university and our country has this wide range of talented people working their damn hardest to always deliver, and the least that I could do as a fellow student is to patronize them.

And patronize them I will. After Bilanggo ng Pag-ibig, I solemnly swear to watch all of DUP’s plays every season while I’m still a student (and even when I’m already an alumnus!).

I am so stoked for DUP’s 40th theater season! I still have a slight hangover from watching their final production for this season and I just can’t wait for more.

Kudos to everyone involved!

(And hi to my forever secret theater actor crush hi hello I watched you in Teatro PorvenirAdarna, and Measure for Measure and you really outdid yourself this time and wow I’m your biggest fan ♥)


2 thoughts on “[FEATURE] Jean Genet’s “Prisoner of Love”

    1. Omg! I didn’t think it was so easy to guess (or not) haha! Thank you for commenting! 🙂 It’s nice to know someone who shares the same opinion as me, especially with topics like theater and the like. ❤


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