In the midst of historical revisionism and Mindanao-wide martial rule, Magwayen Creative Scholars Guild, a student theater company in Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, attempted to retell a significant piece of our past that most of the youth today seemed to forget or dismiss as fact.

Lili, a stage play highly inspired of Liliosa Hilao, relived the story of a PLM student who stood, together with thousands of youth of her generation, against an emerging despotism. Through her writings as the editor-in-chief of Ang Hasik, then PLM’s student publication, Liliosa articulated her advocacies and dissatisfaction on the socio-political landscape back then. Her write-ups irked the Marcos regime that led on her martyrdom. In a few reference, it recalled that Liliosa was among the first casualties of the Marcos martial law period.

On our recent memory, Lili might be regarded as the first stage act that centered on Liliosa Hilao. Her stories are often depicted in books or side plots on a few live acts about the atrocities of the Marcos dictatorship. Lili, as a groundbreaking theater production on Liliosa’s life and sacrifices, was promising and opened up several opportunities.

As part of PLM’s golden founding anniversary which highlighted the vibrant history of the university, Lili may relate to the present PLM community the role that Liliosa Hilao and her contemporaries in PLM decided to carry on to retake the dignity and rights took away from our people. Against the backdrop of our political and social landscape, the play may stir discussions – healthy and critical conversations – on the significance that PLM community played throughout its 50 years of existence on nation building, which seems to gradually fade nowadays. On larger context, Lili and similar biographical narrations of the Martial Law victims may stimulate the rethinking of our today’s youth towards the Marcoses and the darkest period of our modern history.

Promising as it was, Lili, however, failed to live up the expectations. The script and the direction seemed to deviate from its potentials that it may offer. While Lili worked out and succeeded on intermarrying various elements of the past and the present, it veered away from emphasizing the relevance of our past experiences into our present realities. Several plotlines missed out the important learnings and messages that Lili and Liliosa wanted to convey on our millennial generation. These scenes, which may be omitted entirely, departed on significant details and lessons on Liliosa’s life that the youth of today can draw inspirations and guidance. The material used and direction employed during the production should put more emphasis on Liliosa’s principles, her perspectives towards society and its system, her writings, and other parts of her life story that project the worth of the youth who never got intimidated to a ‘bully power-that-be’.

These shortcomings stemmed on the lack of appreciation and sympathy to the roles portrayed by most actors and actresses. Thespians should be mediums who carry the messages of the entire theatre production. With the inadequacies on the part of the playwright and the director, the Lili ensemble fell short on sending the message across to its audience. Exception, of course, should be given to the three actors who convincingly played the part as members of the Philippine Constabulary. Their terrific and outstanding performance perfectly embodied the aggression and brawn of the then security forces that brewed under the whims of a tyrant and served as a reminder today – especially that another martial law is in place.

Magwayen should look on the possibility of staging Lily as a one-act play where flashbacks and other parts can be acted out together with main scene – or at least a multiple-act play where lights-off and scene changes are unnecessary. Frequent interruptions in Lili caused by excessive changes on scene setting disrupted the building up of emotions and proved to be anticlimactic. While Magwayen has been complacent on using the same approach every now and then, the theater group should adhere on revolutionizing its theatrical prowess by turning away from its comfort zone.

Nonetheless, Lily is a breakthrough – both on retelling the story of Liliosa Hilao and on shaping the views of the PLM community and the youth today on previous and present history. Like every breakthrough, it has always rooms for improvements and innovations.

Rating: 3/5.