Several literatures illuminating the conflicts and biases between Christians and Muslims have already been written, and Chris Martinez’s “Our Lady of Arlegui” provides a hilarious addition. The one-act Filipino play depicts the short but very memorable encounter between Rhett, a young Christian film geek, and Anisah, a 40-ish Muslim vendor of DVDs in Quiapo’s Arlegui Street. Rhett is looking for the classic film, “400 Blows” when an Optical Media Board raid ensues, which highlights the culture of “staged” hiding and creates a rationale for conversation.
Most of the humor come from the discussion of problematic attributes of pirated materials like jumping and non-playing discs, senseless and gramatically murderous subtitles, deliberately confusing titles (“400 Blows, hindi 400 Blow Jobs!”), among many others. Such humor, if closely scrutinized, mostly springs from the mockery of “informed and intellectual” yet piracy-supporting middle-(and-higher)-class consumers to vendors whose prime motive is just to sell.
Though attempting to debunk the prejudices between Muslims and Christians, the play cannot help positioning itself to the perspective of a Christian writer writing for a Christian audience. The exploration of the topic is so light that the play spends itself in discussing just two points, first, Muslims’ taboo of eating pork, and second, their preference to have multiple partners. While Anisah justifies the existence of these beliefs, she however is not given a voice that conversely highlights Muslims’ biases against Christians, making the discourse almost one-sided, and leaning to “let-us-be kind-and-understand-them” syndrome.
But we should evaluate the play for what it offers, and not what it lacks. And with this, it is interesting to point out how Martinez has enabled to connect Quiapo’s Dibidi culture to the never ending war between the two religions, locally and globally by interweaving various literary tools and elements. Arlegui Street, a Christian-baptized placed, is a Muslim territory, something that strongly recalls the historical bloody wars of the Crusades, and the Hispanic tradition of Moro-Moro. The minority position of Muslims in the Philippines and their concentration in the South (Islands, Boats) also bring to mind the sensibility that historically labeled them as “pirates,” an infamous role which, in light of the Age of Information and Media Explosion, is becoming positive and beneficial in the perspective of predominantly Christian-and-middle-class Manila that desires cheap-and-unlimited access to entertainment, information, and the arts. In closing the play with Anisah and Rhett starting a meaningful friendship and strong suki-relationship, Chris Martinez’s “Our Lady of Arlegui” points out that mutual religious biases can be negotiated and reconciled in exchange of the common goal to rebel against “legitimate” capitalist establishments that limit the flow of knowledge and cultural exchange.