Earlier today, I was given the opportunity to watch Abnoy and Bidli to support our local theatre here in Cebu city. It is a twin-bill advocacy against bullying. The play was held in Siddhartha Theatre of Guang Ming Institute of Performing Arts along V. Rama Street, Cebu City. It is a two-part play that tackles how bullying happens in school (Abnoy) and in the workplace (Bidli). In this post, I will share my thoughts about the story of Abnoy (as I had to leave before Bidli could start, and I will tell you why later).
The Story of Abnoy
Abnoy tells the story of Jonathan Kinakusgan (played by Vincent Ritz Tacmo), a special child within the spectrum, who was bullied by his new classmate Ivan. At the beginning of the story, Jonathan was portrayed as a very optimistic and energetic kid with very active and wide imagination. He dreams to become a superhero to protect the oppressed and other victims of injustice. Two years prior to the start of the story, his father—a soldier—passed away, leaving him and his mom, who has been very supportive of him.
At the start of the school year, Jonathan and his classmates were introduced to a new addition to their class, a transfer student, Ivan. Even on day one, Ivan showed negative behavior by bullying almost everyone—calling them names and even forcing one of them to do his homework for him for the entire year. When their homeroom adviser witnesses the commotion and asked who started the fight, Jonathan reported Ivan, which triggered the latter to make Jonathan’s life miserable. Ivan bullied Jonathan relentlessly: called him names, tore his homework, and tampered his exam. This affected Jonathan greatly and had a huge impact on his outlook in life and most especially his grades.
When Jonathan finally stood up against Ivan, Desha, one of their classmates, took photos of their fight. These circulated in the school and Jonathan was labelled as the bully. The school sent his mom letters to alert her of Jonathan’s negative behavior and failing grades. During her conversation with the guidance counselor, she was told that it might have been Jonathan’s condition and delusion of being a superhero that triggered his negative behavior. The guidance counselor even went as far as blaming the mother for reinforcing the Jonathan’s imagination, which only fueled his superhero “delusion” and negative behavior, and that the school is not to be blamed for anything that has happened. The story ended with Jonathan being defeated by his imaginary adversaries, whom he was once able to defeat easily and a cut scene that implies Ivan being physically and sexually abused by his father, hinting this as his motivation to become a bully.
My Review of the Story
Before the play started, there was a short talk about bullying and mental health. The speaker talked about what bullying is, its different forms, its causes and effects to all parties involved, and the people involved in bullying (the bully, the bullied, and the witnesses). It also briefly discussed what mental health and its role in bullying. This talk also served as a trigger warning for any heavy themes and scenes that the audience might encounter during the play. This is one thing I liked about the play.
The play also showed heavy themes. Other than showing the different approaches of bullying, it also showed how the school tolerates bullying, does nothing about it, and blames the victim. The school’s failure to intervene with the bullying failed both Jonathan and Ivan. These presented realistically, artfully, and masterfully. The cast played their roles to tell the story so convincingly that despite the trigger warnings during before the play started, I had to leave before Bidli could start, otherwise, it will take its toll on me and my mental health. The hard-to-swallow pills and the haunting reality it presented was too much for me to handle as it brought back so many memories of bullying that I suffered in elementary and high school.
The play ended without giving the audience a resolution about Jonathan’s character. I would have wanted to see whether or not Jonathan was able to recover from the effects of bullying. It was heartbreaking to see him crying in the end of the play, lying helplessly as his demons defeat him. It was painful to think that a once lively, optimistic, and friendly boy has become someone full of despair. Instead, what we were shown was the reason Ivan bullies his classmates. It is in no way that domestic physical and sexual abuse should be tolerated nor condoned, at the same time, it is also never an excuse to become a bully.
The cast and crew gave this play more than just justice. They gave this story life on the most masterful, artful, and convincing way.