Who Killed Jennifer and Who Came to Live? Cancer in a 1950’s Dinner

The cast of suspects.

In a theatrical act over dinner, how can actors sustain the attention of audience who may be more enticed with food served on the table in all its garnishing than with actors in a mere act? How can you make sure that in the run of 40 minutes, the audience would get the show’s message 100 percent in the end?

I am always apprehensive in joining mini-performances in locations such as restaurants and bars and in time slots such as lunch and dinner. These conditions themselves set the tone for audience to treat actors as mere entertainers and/or develop in them a superficial and unperceptive appreciation of the arts. The key is to clarify the objective of the performance and the challenge is for actors to take the lead in making the audience involved in the act in a common space.

Last June 4, Melo’s Restaurant in Quezon City took on a 1950s glam as people flocked with their hats, berets, corsage, pearls, gloves and postwar make-up for Jennifer’s birthday dinner organized by her husband Nick. The guests of the party are mainly avid bloggers who had no idea then that by coming to the party they would be part of a theatrical act by being fused in a group of actors who sit among them in the table. At first, Nick would appear as a host, a role that is but normal in any party or program. After appetizers have been served, one by one the characters are revealed: Madrasta-Jennifer’s Mother, the Family Driver, Jennifer’s Sister, Jennifer’s Ex-Boyfriend and Estrelita, her Bestfriend whose personality of being a meek but resilient underdog I worn for the night. I played Estrelita.

In the process, bloggers assume supporting characters while enjoying the food and greeting fellows they get to meet on bloggers’ occasions such as this. Then finally, as the main course of beef, chicken or fish came, Mr. Inspector was introduced by Nick as he announced Jennifer cannot come because she was believed to be murdered two weeks ago, a popular mystery that must be urgently solved. Thus, the popular question “Who Killed Jennifer?” was raised and the party is a good venue for gathering suspects for public scrutiny.

Guided only by their assumed character and sequence cueing, actors in improvised dialogues defend themselves as Mr. Inspector defined the seemingly bad motives of each in the murder: Madrasta’s jealousy over her daughter’s youth, the driver’s affair and loyalty with Madrasta, Nick’s doubts with his wife, the ex-boyfriend’s insecurity, the Sister’s low affinity and the Bestfriend’s petty grudges . As individuals, motives may vary but what is common with the characters is their love for Jennifer and on one hand, their economic relation to the supposedly sole heir of Señior Santiago as revealed later.

Eventually, bloggers assumed roles and played along, smoothly blending in the act. It was a fulfillment of sorts for the type of performance that requires audience to fully participate in the whole process. As the investigation reached its peak, Mr. Inspector then asked each from the tables to be a people’s judge and alas, they would be able to declare who is guilty in Jennifer’s demise. However, the moment Mr. Inspector would have finally declared it after having consolidated the people’s judgement, the lights went off.

And then, as dessert was served, obstetrician gynecologist Dr. Esther Ganzon entered with her red pointer and powerpoint to reveal the real culprit: cervical cancer.

The discovery was received by chaos of choral ahhhs and applause. Everyone looks at each other then at the dinner plate as instructed by Doctor Ganzon and checked what is left of the beef steak served. How everyone just enjoyed it a while ago. I was thinking people could not look at it the way they appreciated it before to realize that when placed in a glass, a malignant tumor found in the cervix literally looks like the crowd’s choice for main course, the beef stake: something meaty, something bloody either half raw or well done.

Coincidentally, just a week ago, I learned of a friend’s initiative in gathering support for our friend who might be diagnosed for the “female serial killer” CC. I could only imagine how women, friends and relatives with the CC would have to cope up with its complexities and effects such as vaginal bleeding, metastases in the abdomen or lungs, pains in the pelvic, back and legs; and foul odor in general due to the leaking of one’s urine and feces. Cervical cancer is a name you would love to hate.

Studies show that it is the second biggest cause of female mortality in the world. In the Philippines, it is the 2nd most common type of female cancer next to breast cancer according to the Department of Health. All women are prawn to the disease and it can develop as early as 10 years old without pains or symptoms that once discovered, it’s already in Stage III in most cases, especially for patients in their late 20’s and early 30’s. An estimated 7,277 new cases are reported each year in the country and 510,000 worldwide. One Filipina dies of the CC every two hours.

So, how is it acquired? Primary factor is the infection of high-risk types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) through vaginal penetration and skin-to-skin contact with infected areas. In 1949, HPV description through electron microscopy was given that by 1963, the HPV-DNA was identified. It was not until the 1980s that HPV was identified in CC tissue. Thus, the years in between was a significant time in addressing the disease.

Other factors causing the weakness of the cervix include smoking, HIV infection, chlamydia infection, dietary factors, hormonal contraception, multiple pregnancies, exposure to the hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) and a family history of cervical cancer.

Besides the practice of healthy living through exercise and nutritious diet of fruits and vegetables and the use of condoms in sexual engagements, cervical cancer can be prevented through VIA screening or Visual Inspection of the Cervix with Acetic Acid, through Pap Smear and through a vaccine in three shots.

Dr. Ganzon said this vaccine is very accessible and affordable in the Philippines. One shot ranges from Php2,500-3,500 that one person would approximately need P7,500-10,500. It is cheaper when it is a company package order, like one company would care to add it to the health benefits of its workers. I sure would not be scared to take the shots if the vaccine’s really accessible and available but then again, only money can buy all privatized things in the world. Fact is, for an individual, the vaccine is rather expensive, especially for the poor and even up to the middle-middle class. For example, among young professionals and new graduates who earn a monthly average of P6,000-P10,000, such pay is just plain enough to compensate daily food, transportation and share in the family’s bills of electricity, water, phone, internet and a brood’s tuition but not enough to promise a quality type of living. It would not be surprising that 80 percent of cervical cancer cases are found in developing and underdeveloped countries.

As stated in the closing remarks, while Jennifer is merely a fictional character in the event, there are many Jennifers out there suffering from a cancer that may have been prevented or cured with proper healthcare and education. Thinking deeper on who really killed Jennifer, I think economics killed her and that cancer and any curable disease for that matter can really be prevented if for one, the Philippine government stops its corruption habit in order to really channel free social services like health and education to Filipinos.

The dinner birthday party where we were commissioned to perform to was a bright idea of Geiser Maclang Marketing Communications for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) that claims, among others, a license patent to the vaccine.

Icee Po as Jennifer’s Sister, Kitsi Pagaspas as Jennifer’s Mother and Joanna Lerio as Jennifer’s Bestfriend.

About Joanna Lerio

cultural journalist, multidisciplinary artist, educator, traveller, dreamer, yogini, vegetarian, advocate Facebook.com/JoannaLerioOfficial Youtube.com/juanalily Juanalily.wordpress.com/ Juanalilytravels.dreamtrips.com/refer Twitter.com/JoannaLerio Facebook.com/linanganng.kulturangpilipino Artistswelfare.org/join-us/
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