Sometimes art isn’t just an imitation of life, but a phenomenon that blurs the lines between fiction and fact, the humane and unjust, creating a whole new reality unto itself. Information for Foreigners is quite indescribable in that regard. It’s not entertainment (it’s not enjoyable at all, really). It’s not performance art for the sake of art (“Why scream? Why pretend? When no one can really open his mouth, why would anyone scream just for the heck of it?”). It’s the most provocative, innovative, and relevant production I’ve seen.
I won’t go into all the details (this may help a bit), but these are the things you need to know:
The play is presented as a tour. The viewers are the foreigners (how well do you really know your own country?) and some of the actors are tour guides hurriedly leading groups divided into 6 through the hallways, classrooms, and staircases of the CAL New Building in UP Diliman, and not in a theater.
There is no linear plot. Adapted from the original work of Argentina’s Griselda Gambaro, it’s a burlesque, grotesque gallery of the torture, kidnapping, and killing of activists since the 1970s all the way to the present. Water torture becomes a shoot-the-target carnival game where an audience member is asked to participate; each activist’s story is on display like an artifact as the tour guide laughs nervously at each tragic display. It’s no coincidence that the show ran during the anniversary week of Martial Law.
As if bearing witness to and being complicit in the sadistic acts in dark, cramped spaces is not enough, the final act presents the mother of Jonas Burgos searching for her son, getting tossed around by bureaucracy and misdirection, only to pull out his skull out of a giant magician’s top hat. Each actor comes out carrying a poster containing a dead or missing person’s name and face. One guide yells: “Does anyone really need an explanation?” Then, actual relatives of the desaperecidos go on stage and introduce themselves one by one. The last, Jonas’ younger brother, tells us: “We are not actors. This is real. Welcome to the Philippines, foreigners.”
After alternating screams and whispers of “katarungan” echo the atrium, the tour ends with the announcement: “The tour is over. Foreigners, go back to your country.”