Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Romance of Magno Rubio – by Lonnie Carter

By Joe Straw

He sat there. Quietly.  A small boy in the audience watching every motion, every song, not giving an inch to any distractions, glued to the performance on stage.  Tears poured onto his tiny cheeks and sobs were heard.  How could men treat other men this way? So small he held on to the back of a seat and cried and cried watching his father.  It was touching to see a small boy, with so much heart, loving his father doing what he does best.  * 

The Romance of Magno Rubio by Lonnie Carter and directed by Bernardo Bernardo at the Ford Theatre is absolutely wonderful!  In all my many years in theatre I have not seen anything like this.  It is a terrific show from the moment the actors appear on stage to the moment they leave.  This show is magnificent and inspiring!  It will also break your heart. Run to see this production!

Lonnie Carter’s Obie Award winning play comes to Los Angeles for a limited engagement through December 11th, 2011 and is performed in both English and Tagalog.  The show is presented by PAE Live! in association with Good Shepherd Ambulance Company. (What?  Good Shepherd Ambulance Company? This is a story in and of itself!)

The Romance of Mango Rubio is a romance that takes place in the heart of a “Filipino boy, Four foot six inches tall.  Dark as a coconut.  Head small on a body like a turtle’s.”

Mango Rubio (Jon Jon Briones), a small Filipino man, works harvesting crops in the 1930’s California.  He has come to America, like other Manongs, wanting to live the American dream only to discover life is not so easy here.  He was allowed to immigrate as a “national” since the United States colonized the Philippines.  Like Chinese and Japanese immigrants, he cannot own property or marry a Caucasian woman. 

Mango Rubio is a migrant worker, living under terrible conditions.  He is filthy from head to toe but lives an infectious life of optimism, curiosity, and love.  From a Lonely Hearts magazine, Mango Rubio falls hopelessly in love with Clarabelle (Elizabeth Rainey).  It is a love that knows no boundaries even though she is all the way in Arkansas.   

He enlists a friend, Claro (Erick Esteban), a 2nd grade graduate to write letters to his girlfriend but Claro want too much money. So Rubio asks his college-educated friend, Nick (Giovanni Ortega), to read and write letters to the love of his life, Clarabelle.

Nick does so but when they get the letters come back from Clarabelle, Nick thinks she is up to no good. 

“Western Union me. ASAP.” – Clarabelle

Clarabelle wants only his money.  But Mango Rubio is so hopelessly in love he works harder to support her ailing dad, sick brother, and anyone else dying in Clarabelle’s letters. Try as they might no one can convince Mango Rubio that all is not right with Clarabelle.

But Magno Rubio is blinded by love and the thought that, one day, this six foot two inch bundle of woman, Clarabelle, will join him in holy matrimony.  The men have a grand time telling him that Clarabelle will eat him alive.

Jon Jon Briones as Magno Rubio is one of the finest actors you will see bar none. His physicality and characterization is second to none.  He has an incredible voice and his movements on stage make you want to stand up and cheer. He takes great joy in going after and achieving his objective one hardly believes he is doing it all in rhyme.  This is one of the finest performances I’ve seen all year.

Eymard Cabling as Atoy had a very nice personality on stage and that personality becomes very infectious.  But we didn’t get a clear idea of his objective and seem to be one of the boys without a clear path.  Still, this was a very nice job.

Giovanni Ortega was engaging as Nick.  He is the collective conscious of the men. There was a reason this college-educated man decides to skip college and work with the migrant workers.  His thoughts are his own but that doesn’t exclude him from mentally recording the farm workers actions and deeds if for a purpose he doesn’t yet understand. Still, somebody has to tell their story and it might as well be him. This was a very fine performance by a very engaging actor.

Muni Zano as the Narrator was not as sharp as he could have been.  The words did not come easily this night and it was unfortunate to see this in a program that was incredible.  Perhaps it was an off night, or possibly he was thinking in Tagalog. Oo!

Ed Ramolete played Prudencio.  Antoine Reynaldo Diel usually plays this role, but for whatever reason, he was not available.  Ramolete had two days to fill the role.  This is almost an impossible task.  Ramolete had the lines in pots, in his hat, in boxes, on cards, anything that could help him remember the spoken words.  (Think Marlon Brando in the Godfather.) This was unfortunate for a play of this caliber.  Still, Ramolete had a good look for the role and the lines he did remember worked very effectively.

Erik Esteban as Claro was very ambitious in character and deeds.  He thought that he was better than the other guys because he got as far as the second grade.  His words, loved by the men, were his weapons against Rubio.  Still, he had a little bit of the devil in him in trying to steal from his friends before he ran away.

Elizabeth Rainey as Clarabelle was marvelous in the role.  There are many layers to her performance.  Her captivating physical life turns the small space she occupies into a dream.  A come hither dream at that. Her love only goes as far as the last dollar bill, or the last reception to a Western Union receipt.  This was a marvelous job and a wonderful performance.  

Vincent Reyes played wonderful guitar in the show and the rest of the music was just inspiring.

Bernardo Bernardo, the director, gave us a wonderful interpretation of the play.  It is the work of a true master of the craft of storytelling.  This was just a wonderful production and just what we need to liven the spirits this holiday season.

Lonnie Carter, the writer, did a marvelous job.  He uses clever word play and rhymes to move the story along.  One would think the actors were speaking dialogue.  The singing of Philippine love songs make you want to stand and cheer for all of the actors on stage.

Ed Ramolete did a wonderful job as the producer despite problems he had filling in for a missing actor.

Additional lyrics and text were by Ralph Pena and The World Premiere of a New Tagalog Translation Ang Romansa Ni Magno Rubio was done by Bernardo Bernardo.

Frederick A. Edwards plays Nick, Anthony “Gelo” Francisco plays Claro, and Jet Montelibano plays Atoy in the Tagalog versions, which will be performed on Saturdays.  Please check the listings.

The Set Design by Akeime Mitterlehner was very well done.  Felix Roiles as the Martial Arts Choreographer did an incredible job moving the actors in a wonderful fight scene.

Dori Quan as the Costume Designer did an incredible job.   The costumes transported you back to another time and place.  Just a wonderful job.  

Inside the Ford has plenty of free parking and is a great venue for theatre!

Run to see this production.

* The boy is the son of Jon Jon Briones who plays the lead role of Magno Rubio.


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