The Romance of Magno Rubio is a feast for the soul. The chemistry of the multi-talented Filipino American cast on opening night at the DR2 Theatre in New York was so combustible that the audience gave them six curtain calls. A rite of passage for Filipino Americans and a relevant account of the migrant farm worker’s immigrant experience in the present day, playwright Lonnie Carter brings to life his stage interpretation of the short story by the late Filipino American activist and writer Carlos Bulosan.
Devoted to presenting works about the Filipino and Asian American experience, the Obie-award winning Ma-Yi Theatre Company commissioned Lonnie Carter to adapt Bulosan’s short story to the stage. The play focuses on Magno Rubio, an illiterate Filipino farm worker and his pen-pal courtship with Clarabelle, a white woman from Arkansas who advertises in the back pages of a “lonely hearts” magazine. It is a bittersweet tale set in Depression-era California.
The small framed and simple-minded Magno Rubio (Orlando Pabotoy) enlists the college educated Nick (Art Acuña) to write letters to Clarabelle, hoping to woo her. The romance takes place over a three year period in a migrant farm worker’s bunkhouse, during which Clarabelle, whose letters are spoken hilariously by Ramon de Ocampo, manages to fleece the deluded and financially-strapped Magno of jewelry and money. When the day finally comes for them to meet and marry, to no one but Magno’s surprise, there is disappointment but Magno does not despair. He is a dreamer still.
A truly collaborative effort, Director Loy Arcenas has brilliantly melded Carter’s dialogue written in verse and couplets with choreographed stick movement, traditional Filipino melodies, original music by Fabian Obispo, and Tagalog text, translated by Ralph B. Peña. Arcenas’ has separated the actors from the audience using wire as a physical and symbolic tool, effectively transforming the small stage into the penned-in quarters of the bunkhouse. Using humor to make it through their bleak circumstances, the men intimately draw us in as they navigate through their daily routines with hope and dignity and share their humanity, the importance placed on family, and their enduring spirit of survival.
Orlando Pabotoy is an idealist and hopeless dreamer as the title character Magno Rubio, and Art Acuña is compassionate as Nick, the narrator. The chorus that lovingly teases Magno to distraction includes comedian Jojo Gonzalez’s Claro as the rascal troublemaker, Ramon de Ocampo’s Atoy as the instigator and Ron Domingo as Prudencio who is touching as the wizen veteran who longs for his wife in the Philippines.
Musical director Dominick Amendum captures the lighthearted, as well as the bittersweet moments of the play, allowing the great affection and synergy of the actors to shine through. The choreography by Kristin Jackson is poetry in motion.
A theatrical breakthrough of the Filipino American experience, I highly recommend this exquisite evening of theatre which is in limited run through November 17th. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets range in price from $18 to $35 and can be reserved by calling Tele-Charge at 212-239-6200.
The Romance of Magno Rubio Stage adaptation by Lonnie Carter based on a story by Carlos Bulosan; direction and sets by Loy Arcenas; Tagalog text by Ralph B. Peña; costumes by Myung Hee Cho; lighting by James Vermeulen; original music by Fabian Obispo; musical direction, Dominick Amendum; movement coach, Kristin Jackson; production stage manager, April A. Klein. Ikaw song by M. Velarde. Ma-Yi Theater Company, Jorge Ortoll, executive director; Ralph Peña, artistic director. At the DR2 Theater, 103 East 15th Street, Union Square, New York.
Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.
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