“Remember, if you wish to stay alive/ For once do something bad and you’ll survive.”
Anton Juan couldn’t have been more right when he said Brecht and Weill’s masterpiece is swak na swak with our current political situation. And he couldn’t have a chosen a better time to stage this musical, what with the upcoming elections, the 1M peso dinner extravaganza, and the ongoing battle against CHACHA and corruption.
Set against the underground world dominated by gangs of thieves and murderers, prostitutes and beggars (appropriately named Tondon), the Threepenny Opera chronicles the crimes and loves (?) of the bandit and infamous womanizer Macheath or “Mack the knife”.
Originally, this was set in the bowels of London back in the 1920’s but the characters and the plot reflect very much our society now. Peachums and Co. ran by Mr. and Mrs. Peachum mirrors not only the infamous syndicates that employ street children and beggars for profit that thrive in the streets of Manila (or maybe even the whole country), but also a corruption riddled system that governs this country. Peachums and Co. lives not just in the innards of the city but also in the government (ever wonder where the bulk of our taxes go?) and the bigger banks where
“presidents hide, stash away their loot, and from where we try to get our sad pensions from – if poor ex-public servants can even find a branch near their barrio—OF IF THE MONEY ISN’T GONE ALTOGETHER AND THE POOR SENIOR CITIZEN IS SIMPLY TOLD THAT THERE IS A HALT IN HIS PENSION without prior notice or explanation.” (Juan)
It is all too familiar, from the ties between Tiger Brown and Macheath, Pirate Jenny introducing an innocent child to the world of prostitution, to Macheath’s foiled execution. Somewhere in the past (or even recent) issues of the Philippine Daily Inquirer or Manila Bulletin, the same things have been accounted for more than once.
Juan has also injected Filipino elements all throughout the play. The tiered padyak, the centerpiece of the set, is not only used to facilitate the change in the set but also “the prison of taxonomies that the powerful traps us in” (Juan). And at some point, doesn’t it remind you of the skyscraper slums prevalent in the inner regions of the city? Then there was the reference to Balut and the improvisations. Victoria rhymes with __________. I think you know what follows.
A social commentary you say? Right you are. But this is not meant to debase the Philippine society (And since when has Juan dela Cruz ever taken offense on something that’s true?). It aims to provide us an awareness of what is happening right now, as if the media hasn’t hammered this enough in our consciousness by now. But I guess this awareness is the very reason why this [Threepenny Opera] simply worked.
So what keeps a man alive, asks Brecht. Macheath answers,
“… He lives on others; He likes to taste them first, then eat them whole, if he can; forgets that they’re supposed to be his brothers, that he himself was ever called man.”
And it doesn’t take a member of the lumpen class to figure this out.