From Theater and Beyond
MONIQUE WILSON: LESSONS FROM VANESSA REDGRAVE AND JANE FONDA
by Pablo A. Tariman
The first image I see every time I see Monique Wilson is the fragile Anne Frank from “The Diary of Anne Frank” which she portrayed some years back in Repertory Philippines when the theater company was still in that top floor of an Ayala Avenue building in Makati.
Then I give her a second look and then I see the feisty characters of Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave from the film adaptation of Lillian Hellmann’s “Julia.”
You see the actress in her as you hear how clearly she enunciates her words and how she connects deeply with some pressing issues not necessarily related to theater and film.
You realize she has a life outside theater and film and making the most out of it.
In another setting, you see her flying to Indonesia to give moral support to a hapless Celia Veloso, mother of OFW Jane Veloso who is still threatened by a death sentence while languishing in an Indonesian island.
Last year, she posted on her Instagram: “I am in utter shock, disbelief and disgust at the lack of compassion, comprehension of facts, and empathy of some people who are hitting the Veloso family for having the courage to speak the truth, and for holding our government accountable for their criminal neglect and abandonment of Mary Jane – when it is their right to do all this after everything their family has suffered.”
As I see her now outlining her plans for the new edition of One Billion Rising set to happen in Manila on February 14, indeed she looks like Jane Fonda’s character from Hellmann’s “Julia.”
She reiterated her involvement with “One Billion Rising” — of which she is global director — was her way of making wake-up calls for the government to facilitate more help for typhoon victims and to address injustices around the world committed especially to women.
In the open forum, she cites the power of dance as an expression of protest and liberation.
She told media men: “Dancing allows us to come back into our bodies as individual and groups and a world. It connects our feet to the earth. Dancing is defiance. It is joyous and raging. This year we must continue to go much further. We must go all the way and make the change.”
She was 18 when played Kim in this Cameron Mackintosh musical that took London by storm. It was a gradual change in outlook that she found herself now singing a Miss Saigon song while telling farmers to stand up to their rights.
Like it or not, that Hacienda Luisita performance was like a scene from the award-winning “Julia” (based on Lillian Hellman’s book, Pentimento) where her favorite actress, Vanessa Redgrave, played an activist involved in anti-Nazi cause (Redgrave won an Oscar for best supporting actress this role).
While Monique was in London doing Miss Saigon and later doing advance studies in theater, she met the great Redgrave who was proclaimed by playwrights Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams as “the greatest living actress of our times.” Her adoration for the legendary British actress is inevitable she refers to her as her heroine and goddess.
She exults: “Apart from being one of the world’s best actresses, Redgrave was and still is a fierce, principled political activist and a proud member of the Workers Revolutionary Party (UK), a Trotskyist group in the 80’s (Trotskyism is a theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky). I had the immense honor of working with her in London in 1991 when I was 21 years old and doing ‘Miss Saigon.’ I wrote her a five-page letter telling her about how she inspired me and about how I wanted to be a political activist/actress like her. She invited me to perform with her in a political concert she was staging. A theatrical moment shared with her I will always cherish to this day. No wonder that my favorite movie when I was just 7 years old, was ‘Julia’ swept away by, not just the amazing acting of Vanessa and Jane Fonda but also because of the political passions and convictions I witnessed in the film.”
Fonda also became her friend while touring Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologue” staged for many years by her New Voice Company.
Still Monique on her idols: “Redgrave and Jane Fonda are indeed amazing actresses and critically acclaimed to this day. Both are political activists who had sacrificed some of their careers for their political beliefs. I have had the profound honor of meeting and working with and learning from them. I like to think there are no coincidences in life. Moments connect for particular purposes and that is to open paths and possibilities, and roads towards awakening and serving.”
From Vanessa Redgrave to Jane Fonda, Monique found another kindred spirit in playwright Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologue.(VM)”
The riveting honesty of the play allowed the actress to face gross injustices to women (including women in her family) and to do something about them while heeding the call of theater.
Said Monique of the VM playwright who will join her in Manila in the celebration One Billion Rising: “From Eve (Ensler) I have learned deeper love, deeper understanding, deeper compassion about people and the world; about taking in what you see and experience, the suffering, the pain, the stories of the people, and to open your heart completely to that which changes you, which then affects what we choose to do in this world- with our art, with our life. She has taught me what being in service to changing the world for women and girls really and truly means, of what our function is as both artists and activists which is to bring the truth to a wider platform.”