Playing the part of Judas Iscariot, a Buhing Kalbaryo experience

By: Delta Derycka C. Letigio April 20,2019 - 02:29 PM

Bry’l Gonzales played the part of Judas Iscariot during the Buhing Kalbaryo play that was staged on Good Friday, April 19. | Delta Dyrecka Letigio

CEBU CITY, Philippines — He took a quick break from his international travels to play the part of a traitor.

Bry’l Gonzales, 27, returned to Cebu in February to join this year’s Buhing Kalbaryo play.

After spending more than 17 years in Europe, he came home to play the part of the infamous Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples whose betrayal saved the world.

Gonzales, a Barangay Guadalupe native, said that he has always been fascinated by the Buhing Kalbaryo play that is now on its 22nd year.  He grew up watching  local actors and actresses do their daily rehearsal at the National Shrine of the Our Lady of Guadalupe grounds, where the play was originally staged before it was transferred to the Espina Compound in 2018.

“I’ve always wanted to be part of that play but our family left for Europe and I never got the chance,” Gonzales said in an interview with CDN Digital.

Buhing Kalbaryo

The Buhing Kalbaryo is an annual play that depicts the sufferings and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Staged every Good Friday since 1997, the play was organized by former Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, who himself spent his college days being part of theatre plays.

“I’ve always loved drama. I, myself, was an actor and I wanted to share the experience then through the Buhing Kalbaryo as a reminder to the people of the sacrifices of Jesus Christ,” said Rama.

A scene from Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in this year’s Buhing Kalbaryo play. | Delta Dyrecka Letigio

For the past 22 years, the play has seen various revisions of its script and evolutions in the stage design, adapting modern theatrical special effects to bring to life the Passion of Christ.

For Rama, the continuous existence of the play only meant that it has been imbedded in the culture of the new generation of Cebuanos that now considers the play as an important part of their Holy Week celebration.

He said that Buhing Kalbaryo was was also a form of prayer.

From Bry’l to Judas

Gonzales said that when he was younger he had been wanting to join the Buhing Kalbaryo play, but he never had the chance to since his family decided to move to Germany when he was only 10 years old.

When he turned 18, he started his journey around Europe, working as a freelance graphic artist, before he decided to settle in Amsterdam, Netherlands to study in one of the universities there.

In January this year, he travelled to Manila with some classmates as part of their philosophy and sociology studies.

“I was with a few classmates in Manila when I heard that there was an audition for Buhing Kalbaryo,” he said.

In February, he travelled to Cebu to join the Buhing Kalbaryo auditions. He told the production staff that he especially wanted to play the role of Judas Iscariot.

“I chose Judas Iscariot because there was a personal connection. At some points, we all do bad things but we eventually realize our mistakes and regret them,” Gonzales said.

During their rehearsals, he would travel from Consolacion town, where he is now staying, to the San Nicholas Church grounds.

Gonzales said that playing the role of Judas Iscariot was not easy.

After spending around 17 years in Europe, he was having difficulty with his script which was written in Cebuano.

Gonzales said that co-actors helped him in his practices. They also gave him tips on how to properly enunciate Cebuano words.

“At the beginning when I asked to join the play, I joined way behind of the casting schedule. And without any experience on acting, nor any hidden talents, I was (starting from) zero. Plus I had much difficulty in pronunciation especially the deep Bisaya (words) they are using in the play.  All I could offer was my passion and heart,” he said.

Mark Rosales, one of the Buhing Kalbaryo’s directors, said that their entire team helped Gonzales memorize his lines. Each of the actors and actresses showed a “great” degree of teamwork in the production.  He said that everyone had to be involved in the creation of the different characters that were included in their play.

Gonzales played the part of Judas Iscariot during the Good Friday staging of Buhing Kalbaryo 2019. | Delta Dyrecka Letigio

Gonzales said that he also received help from his new found friends Thirdy, Balug, Ayan, Henry, Eki, Pekong, Koko, Werner and Joey.

The support that he received from the entire production staff helped him immediately master his lines and understand the character of Judas better.

Gonzales said that aside from its religious significance, he joined this year’s Buhing Kalbaryo because of his love for theatre.

He also got interested in the play because of his ongoing study of the different religions in the world.

Although a Roman Catholic, he is fascinated by the idea of a deity which is universal in all religions.  For Gonzales, Buhing Kalbaryo was a depiction of a religious story that reflects the frailties of humankind.

“I’ve done my fair share of sins and I am once a Judas Iscariot. Everyone is at some point a Judas Iscariot because everyone has this fight. It’s up to us how we turn these into (our) passion,” he said.

Just like Judas, Gonzales admitted that there was also an instance in his life when he doubted if God ever existed. This was also the reason why he opted to study different religion such as Islam and Buddhism to understand the limits of human faith.

The betrayal of Judas

True to his character, Gonzales poured all the skepticisms and doubts that he had during the earlier years of his life to play the role of Judas.

His performance was applauded by the audience as he showed conflicting emotions before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish judicial body that tried Jesus Christ.

Manang Sandra, a 45-year-old a fish vendor from the Pasil Fish Market, said that Gonzales played the part of Judas very well. While watching scenes from the last supper, Sandra said that she was able to immediately understand that Gonzales was playing the role of Judas.

Hudas kaayo siyag panagway. Awa ra unsa ka maldito. Hudas kaayo. (He looks exactly like Judas. Look at how bad he looks. Very much like Judas),” said Manang Sandra.

Gonzales’ part ended when Judas hanged himself on a tree out of remorse and guilt for betraying his master. Supported by a harness, Gonzales hanged himself on a tree that grows at the San Nicolas Church grounds in Barangay Sawang Calero.

The scene looked so real that spectators especially the children crowded Judas. Some with tears on their eyes.

Namatay na. (He is now dead),” others in the crowd said.

Playing the role of Judas Iscariot, Bry’l Gonzales hanged himself on a tree that grows at the San Nicolas Church grounds.  / Delta Dyrecka Letigio

Gonzales, of course, did not die but his character of Judas Escariot. He later on joined the other casts during their 3.4 kilometer penitential walk to Espina Compound in Barangay Guadalupe where the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was staged.

The play’s outcome gave Gonzales a smile of satisfaction on his face.

Except for the blinding heat which he felt during his crucifixion at around 11 a.m. and their noontime walk to the Espina Compound, everything else exceed his expectations.

Gonzales revealed that he was a little dizzy from the heat of the sun while he hanged on the harness.

Still, he will have great memories to bring with him when he leaves Cebu to go back to Amsterdam next month. He is also uncertain if time would permit him to come back for next year’s play.

“My experience was great, fun, passionable. It was a hell of an experience,” he told CDN Digital.

His playing the role of Judas now makes him part of the history of Cebu’s longest running Good Friday play. /dcb

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