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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(L-R foreground) Orlando Pabotoy and (L-R rear) Jojo Gonzalez,
Ramon de Ocampo,
Ron Domingo and Art Acuna
Photo credit: Lita Puyat
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,