Kontessa

My daddy forbade me to get naked for a college play. He didn’t realize it was not his call to make. I was eighteen. I could make my own decisions about my body.

I had just finished a run of my first professional theatre gig. “By George!” was a musical revue of George Gershwin starring Dulce and directed by Behn Cervantes. I was a wispy little chorus girl, but I had a solo part after Michelle Gallaga in the song, “I Got Rhythm.” It was a showstopper!

Throughout the run and for weeks after it, I hung out with Dulaang UP kids. Even though I went to Ateneo, I auditioned for a part in the play “Fili,” adapted by Floy Quintos from Jose Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo.” Director Tony Mabesa must have been amused by my novelty because he cast me in a big part, the role of Kontessa, the Kapitan-Heneral’s whore.

Sisa was Eugene Domingo, who had briefly changed her name to Geena Domingo to assume a more dramatic persona. She was a student then, not the big comedy star she is now. The big star of the show was film director Mario O’Hara as the protagonist Simoun.

Rehearsals were exciting. I was getting a master class in theatre performance from the best in the Philippines. I tried my best to keep up when we read through the entire script. I was in one big scene with chunky monologues and several lines back and forth with the Kapitan-Heneral. I was off-book and ready when it was time to get the scene up on its feet.

Sir Tony had me enter with a lit candelabra in each hand. I recited my lines, projected my voice as big as I could make it. My scene partner, the Kapitan-Heneral, was played by a flamboyant opera singer. I couldn’t let my voice drown alongside his. At center stage I was directed to hand the candelabras to the Kapitan-Heneral, kneel in front of him with my back to the audience, and undress.

Undress?

Sir Tony was serious. I would be getting naked onstage.

My heart raced. My face heated up. I felt small. Literally. I had no tits. I was very self-conscious about it. We weren’t even onstage at the time. We were in a rehearsal room with unforgiving flat fluorescent lighting. I sheepishly removed my street clothes and returned to my spot center stage. The Kapitan-Heneral looked down at me. He was enormous.

“Drip wax on her,” Sir Tony directed from behind a desk. The stage manager sat next to him coldly taking notes on her script.

I continued my lines, gasping every time hot wax hit my bare skin. I felt all eyes on me. Cast and crew held their collective breath as a virgin had her first taste of Dominance and submission. Public humiliation. I didn’t know any of them and none of them knew me. I was an outsider. Just a doe-eyed girl from Ateneo who thought she could run with the cool kids at UP. I felt so alone.

As the scene drew to a climactic end, Sir Tony said, “This is where you have an orgasm.”

“What’s an orgasm?” I asked.

Sir Tony laughed a big booming laugh that echoed throughout the rehearsal hall and in the back of my head for years to come.

“You poor girl.”

Sir Tony took out a cigarette and stood up. The stage manager called a break.

We worked the scene in the succeeding rehearsals. I grew in confidence each time we ran it. I was determined to conquer this role. Eventually, though, Sir Tony decided to get someone else to play Kontessa, a woman named Grace, who rumor had it was a Muslim princess. She was a grown woman with full breasts and dark hair down to her ankles. She fit the part more than I did. She knew how to have an orgasm.

I’m trying to imagine my 18-year-old self as the Kontessa. Not yet five feet tall, a tit-less waif. I would have been the child prostitute version, which is not without a visceral power of its own.

I was demoted to the part of a common whore. I wore a blonde wig and a big poofy dress. I had a couple of lines and got to kiss Sir Mario O’Hara at the beginning of the play.

May Ling Su whore in a blonde wig

I got asked out on dates a lot during the run of the play. Maybe I was fresh meat from Ateneo. Maybe it was the challenge of giving me my first orgasm. Maybe that very first wax dripping scene rehearsal played in their imaginations more often than they could bear it. More than my naked body on display, I like to think it was my innocence, vulnerability, and courage that captivated them that day.

This is an excerpt from the memoir I am currently writing. I am so proud that I got to work with Sir Tony Mabesa, who recently won the MMFF award for Best Supporting Actor in the movie Rainbow’s Sunset. Salute to Dr. Jose Rizal. Mabuhay!

Love, Lust, & Liberty,

May Ling Su