Games Peter plays

THIS IS THE concluding part of Alex C. Delos Santos’s excellent essay that serves as the Introduction to the US-published book of the multi-awarded poet and playwright Peter Solis Nery, Funny, Sad, and Dangerous: Three Award-winning Short Plays(KDP: U.S.A., 2019).

Copies of the book will be on sale in Iloilo starting October, when Nery comes home for his annual visit to his home province.

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Literature and cultural scholar Delos Santos of San Jose, Antique is this year’s Peter’s Prize awardee for Excellence in Literary Studies.

Popularly known as “the father of modern Kinaray-a writing”, and erstwhile festival director of the Binirayan of Antique, Delos Santos is also a blogger and reviewer of books, movies, and all things literary and artsy.

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Earlier this year, Delos Santos produced and directed Nery’s long lost play “Panay Dreamgirls” which successfully toured in Antique, Iloilo, and Negros.

He also took time to study three of the short award-winning plays of Peter Solis Nery.

If you missed Part I of this essay, look for last Monday’s column (Delos Santos on 3 Nery Plays).

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GAMES PETER PLAYS

by Alex C. Delos Santos

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Gladiolas, written in Filipino, is subtitled Isang Dulang may Kapsyon, legitimizing the digital chorus’s role. Thirty-year-old Dennis Pajada (a pun on gayspeak hada, meaning “to cruise”) is a local newspaper columnist who takes care of his invalid father. The play takes place in their house one night when he invited for dinner and sleep over his lover Raymund Chua, a banker 15 years his senior.

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It is not Dennis and Raymund’s love story that is autobiographical though, although we can deduce that the author was referring to a real-life lover, or perhaps an idealized lover: older, stable, with the means to support a younger lover. It is Dennis’s difficult relationship with his father Federico that reveals the author’s references. Not that Peter Solis Nery’s father Cecilino was invalid. Maybe it was merely a metaphor for his drinking, which Peter despised.

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Melecio Turao, in his book Insatiable: A Literary Biography of Peter Solis Nery(2017), wrote in Chapter Four, Two Dead Men Drinking—an imaginary conversation between Cecilino Nery and Peter’s husband Randy Graydon, which reveals a lot about Peter’s relationship with his father.

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The love-hate relationship between father and son is expressed when Federico soliloquizes his admiration for Dennis:

“Paano ko makuhang magalit sa aking anak? Isa siyang makata. Napakaganda ng kanyang tula. Nagawa niyang erotiko ang ordinaryong kanin. Walang kabaklaan, tanging sining lamang. Mamamatay akong walang iiwan sa mundo maliban sa kanya. Sa mga anak ko, siya lang ang hindi nagbago ng apelyido. Siya lang ang magpapatuloy ng aking pangalan. Pero sa kanyang pagpanaw, meron siyang imortal na maiiwan. Isang libro. Isang daang tula. Isang bagong pagtanaw sa pagsaing at pagkain ng kanin. Erotiko, oo. Pero masining. At mahusay. Magaling ang aking anak!”

[How can I despise my son? He is a poet. He writes beautiful poems. He has turned ordinary rice into eroticism. Nothing faggoty, only pure art. I will die without a legacy to this world but him. Of my children, only he will carry my name. But when he dies, he will leave an immortal legacy. A book. A hundred poems. A new look at cooking and eating rice. Erotica, yes. But artful. And excellent. My son is talented.]

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Of course, he is referring to his son’s project of writing Cien Sonetos Eroticos(yes, the same material referred to in the other play). This is not far from Turao’s reconstruction of Cecilino the father in page 110 of Insatiable. Cecilino talks to Randy Graydon thus: “I was secretly proud of him. I grant that he played many roles, and led many lives. I only had to look back on his superior test scores, short poems hung on the school’s bulletin board, stories that he wrote under different names… and his getting the top post with the Citizen Army Training.”

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With Tic Tac Toe, Peter Solis Nery plays at everything—false morality, decadent artist networks,  abusive producers, censors,  questionable modes of production—and sticks out a dirty finger to everyone. He problematizes language, making the case for structuralists to see if language could indeed be arbitrary, or if words could be substituted for another and still get the same meaning.

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The play is about an idealist playwright who believes in his power as auteur, but realizes that his wings are cropped by the whims, excesses, or intellectual inferiority of his producer, audience, and critics. He writes what he intended as a “sexually charged” play, ready to face the ending controversy, and confident that he could defend his integrity as an artist. He tries to give in to the pressures from his director, producer, and critic to save his artistic vision, but in the end realizes that it is a futile and totally pointless struggle. He ends up revising his play into something avant gardethat no one can comprehend.

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As an artist, Peter Solis Nery has had his share of tug-of-war with his audience and critics.  He trailblazed vanity publishing in Iloilo with his obliquely self-titled magazine Pierre (2003), a little pamphlet short of an adult magazine that exposes him in his birthday suit, with sexy articles, erotica, and one issue of himself cavorting with a female model in the nude. At one time, amidst national political issues in 2005, he threatened to pose full-monty at the Arroyo Fountain, soliciting much anticipation from the local media, and opening up a discourse on public nudity. In 2016, he directed and cast himself in the short film Ikapito nga Adlaw, featuring a brief frontal nudity of himself and a sizzling sex scene with an actor.

Peter Solis Nery’s proclivity for sex and the vocabulary for it reveals his mission to liberate the uptight Ilonggo society from its seeming prudence. This is the very theme of the last play. Yet, as an artist, he believes he has the upperhand: take it or take it because he doesn’t give a damn.

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Peter Solis Nery defies the New Critics: He has placed himself in his plays as the master puppeteer who need not hide. His plays are self-referential and intertextual. These three plays talk to each other, and should be read in concentric circles. The bricolage of his sonnets and stories woven into the plays, and the strands of his real life story between the lines make for a worthy post-modern reading, where the playwright is himself the player. ([email protected]/PN)

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