Symphony in Manila: A Play

by Renelaine B. Pfister

On August 19 at 7 p.m., there will be a staged reading of Michael Markrich’s play, Symphony in Manila, at Manoa Valley Theater. His play placed second in the 2021 Hawaii Playbuilders statewide playwriting contest.

Michael Markrich has lived in Hawaii since 1982. He studied history at the University of Washington and the Economics of Fisheries at the University of Hawaii. Apart from his studies, Michael was fascinated by stories from local people and learned about Filipino history through his wife, Kathleen Racuya-Markrich. He started taking courses from Kumu Kahua theatre and writing his own plays, which he entered in local contests.

Symphony in Manila germinated one day when his rabbi asked him to contact the Philippine Consulate, which held a Holocaust Remembrance every year. The rabbi wished to set up a classical music program to recognize and honor the Filipinos who saved 1,200 Jews in World War II. When Michael was preparing the introduction, he came across this incredible story.

In a span of one month, from February to March 1945, 100,000 people died in Manila from massacres and bombings. Manila was destroyed.

Herbert Zipper, an Austrian composer and conductor, was in Manila at the time, having accepted an invitation to conduct the Manila Symphony Orchestra. Zipper had experienced firsthand the horrors of war – he was released from Dachau concentration camp. He came up with the idea to gather members of the Manila Symphony and play Beethoven in the ruins of Manila.

Michael says, “People thought he was mad. But Zipper understood that the Philippines had a rich classical music tradition with highly respected composers like Antonio Molina (who wrote “Hatinggabi.”) He knew this didn’t change the catastrophe, he only wished to help the suffering and traumatized people heal.”

Michael adds, “The play is a fictionalized account of how the concert took place and the courage, talent, and resourcefulness of the classical musicians of the Philippines.”

Directed by Cynthia Farias, with Kathleen Racuya-Markrich as Assistant Director, Symphony in Manila stars Jose Ver and Deanna Espinas. Other local actors include Cassidy Patmont, Miki Yamamoto, Amanda Chang, Tom McNamara and Chris Inouye. Eugen Schlosser from Germany will be joining the cast to play Zipper.

Michael says, “The commemorative concert at Temple Emanuel was cancelled because of COVID-19 but I thought I should still tell this story. I entered the story as Symphony in Manila with the help of many extremely talented local Filipino actors who listened to my script and helped me make it better.”

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