Aaron Jalalon’s play “Red Wine for Teddy” is an excellent work of literature because of its demonstration of refreshing humour, its ability to ironically reveal Philippine realities and its nature as a work that is uniquely Filipino. It is both entertaining and profound, a helpful tool in bringing the masses back into the path of intellectualism they have for a long time strayed from.
The play, which consists of just one scene, is about four meat vendors: the eponymous Teodor, Lydia, her daughter Ji-ji and Ardong. It is revealed in the four’s dialogue that Gary, an American who was a patron of Teodor, had been found murdered in a dump site. The four express the possibility that theft was the motive for the murder, and, in a light hearted sequence of dialogue, they fondly lament his death.
The play’s strongest aspect is its humour. It seems superficial, but on closer reading, it reveals the attitudes of its characters.
The eponymous character, Teddy, is a Filipino xenophile who has adopted a foreign nickname, one given to him by the deceased Gary. He tries his best to use the foreigner’s language but unwittingly abuses it with mispronunciations and misquotes. (I quite imagined Jimmy Santos, famed purveyor of “Carabao English”, as Teodor).
Teddy’s rather inflated opinion of himself contrasts sharply with the character of Lydia, a middle-aged woman who egged her daughter to flirt with the deceased foreigner. Lydia’s character demonstrates the stereotypical Filipino mother: always encouraging her children to marry rich. Her constant remarks on how her daughter should have flirted with Gary adds to the humour.
Ardong, a minor character, also demonstrates some degree of humour, particularly as the typical of men: driven by hormones and full of machismo. He demonstrates this by flirting with Ji-ji and by teasing Teodor with his alleged homosexuality.
Ji-ji, the most serious character in the play, manifests subtle humor as she expresses her frustration over her mother’s insistence that she flirt with Gary.
Carrying the laughs througout is Teodor’s English. Aside from often lacking correct syntax and morphology, it is filled with trite and inappropriately used expressions. He starts his storytelling, for example, with “once upon a time…” He also demonstrates truly Filipino puns, such as “Red wine, very different from Red Horse!”
But with this humour, the play reveals the harsh realities of Philippine society: colonial mentality, greed and a disregard for human life.
Throughout the dialogue, the characters all express wonder and admiration for Gary and for American culture in general. When Teodor constantly uses English, Lydia expresses contempt, saying how the former doesn’t deserve to use the language. They heap much praise to the foreigner’s house, describing it as clean despite the absence of a wife. The reverence for wine is another indication of admiration for the foreign culture.
This reverence for the foreigner, however, does not help in evoking anything more that sympathy from the meat vendors. While the four did express regret at the American’s death, none of them ever expressed desire to find justice for him. Each one only expresses abject fatalism: Lydia and Ji-ji regret not making him their patron, Teodor only expresses sadness at the loss of a friend, and Ardong hints at envy.
The play, in showing the characters’ passivity, shows the society’s disregard for human life.
The dialogue hints that the motive of the murder may be theft. However, based on Teodor’s actions with Gary, one can also speculate that the foreigner was molesting someone. Either way, the culprit had murdered the foreigner so easily, completely without consideration.
In the long run, the play stresses the sociological “Other” and thus demonstrates that the worth of Man is in direct relation to the number of people who care for Him. Gary, being a bachelor in a foreign country, received only pity, not grief, from the people who had minimal contact with him. He was a stranger to all the characters in the play, and strangers can feel no more than sympathy.
The play reveals ideas and cultural norms unique to the Philippines. The word “hilas,” for example, which Lydia constantly uses on Teodor, is a word I cannot translate. It reveals the Filipino mindset of the existence of an upper class and a lower class. The word being used on someone from the latter employing elements used only by the former. The very fact that the play, humorous as it is has such a serious theme reveals the Filipino’s ability to ridicule his own problems and from them derive amusement.
The fatalism so epitomized by the “bahala na” mantra is, in this play, shown to be postmodernist in nature, embracing chaos with a playful sense of irony. Putting issues on homophobia aside, the play is amusing yet ironic, funny yet profound. In its humour there is seriousness and in its seriousness there is humour.
Karlo Antonio David is a second year student taking up AB English in the Ateneo de Davao University. He hails from Kidapawan.