This play tells the urgent story of a Filipino comfort woman

Nana Rosa is joined by other former comfort women in seeking out justice for the atrocities committed against them. Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

By Chang Casal/cnnphilippines.com – Some traumas are so severe that, though the mind tries to forget, the feeling always remains. Memories become hazy and details are forgotten, but sometimes out of nowhere, like a dam breaking, they come flooding in. For Maria Rosa Luna Henson, a radio announcement in 1992 brought forth the thundering jackboots, the prison devoid of sunlight, and the daily wails of six other women that she had tried to forget for nearly 50 years.

Henson is the subject of U.P. Playwrights’ Theatre’s “Nana Rosa,” which tells her story as the first Filipino comfort woman to speak publicly about her ordeal: nine months of sexual slavery at the hands of Imperial Japanese soldiers during World War II. When former comfort woman Kim Hak-sun of South Korea came forward with her story at a press conference in 1991, the event prompted a group of women to form the Task Force on Filipina Comfort Women, which appealed to several radio programs to broadcast their search for anyone with similar experience. The play follows the Task Force as they visit Henson’s past life.

Based on Henson’s autobiography, “Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny,” and pages from her diary, playwright Rody Vera and director José Estrella create a show built on and propelled by Nana Rosa’s memories. Out of the darkness emerge the ghosts from her past — her parents; the nameless, faceless figures that defiled her each night; the women whose names, even speaking voices, she had never heard — all this while Rosa Henson (played alternately by Peewee O’Hara and Upeng Galang Fernandez) stands onstage, spotlight shone overhead, as if engulfed by her recollections.

“Sabi ni nanay, ‘Kapag muling binigkas, muling nagkakatotoo. Kaya sa isip ko lang binibigkas,” says O’Hara with a trembling voice. Pages from Henson’s diary are projected onstage, and she frequently revisits her writing table where, as soon as the pen hits the paper, the memories begin to unravel.

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