At its essence, The Romance of Magno Rubio is an ill-fated story we have all seen before: the hapless country yokel who is in love with the beautiful babe way out of his league. It differs slightly in that the play is set in 1930s California and revolves around the unrequited love problems of a Filipino migrant worker. However, what breaks this familiar tale from the traditional boy-meets-girl mold is the incorporation of non-traditional storytelling methods.
Our archetypal peasant hero is Mango Rubio (Jon Jon Briones), a “Filipino boy. Four-foot six inches tall. Dark as a coconut. Head small on a body like a turtle’s.” He has fallen in love with a girl he has never seen but for a photo in the Lonely Hearts section of a magazine. She is Clarabelle (Elizabeth Rainey), six feet tall and almost 200 pounds, a girl “twice his size sideward and upward.” When he is not dreaming of his ever elusive love, he toils the fields along his fellow manongs, his fellow Filipino immigrant workers. It was interesting to see how the cast functioned, as they not only served as characters in the play but also the vehicle in which the story was told. Filipino rattan sticks, rhyme, rhythm, and song helped to illustrate not only the kind of friendships and alliances that are formed in the shoddy bunkhouses but also the life and hardships of migrant workers. One of my favorite scenes in the play was when the manongs are working the field. They use their rattan sticks as short hoes to dig up the strawberries and lettuce. To signify the onset of rain, they rap the sticks on the ground until the drumming crescendoed into a roaring thunderstorm. They chant under their breath in Tagalog, each taking their turn to present a sort of monologue. At the climax of their rallying calls, Atoy (Eymard Cabling) is violently struck down by the foreman. In another scene, the cast gathers around Magno as he works himself into a frenzy to earn money to send to Clarabelle. They twirl their rattan sticks in a flurry of movement as Magno does, supporting and magnifying his feverish labor. In their replication of his action, they demonstrate the extent of his work while their distance from him isolates him. I found these figurative scenes to demonstrate the realities of migrant life to be more powerful and enthralling because of the journey it allowed my imagination to take.
The cast members also propelled the story forward. Nick (Giovanni Ortega) is Magno’s friend who writes and translates the flurry of letters between Magno and Clarabelle because Magno is illiterate; he is the filter through which the love letters are translated. Claro’s (Erick Esteban) crassness and cunning is the ideal foil to Magno’s sweet sincerity. They and the rest of the cast truly bring to life the romance of Magno Rubio. Magno is tireless in his quest for love and experiences the array of emotions one feels in his quest. Briones is absolutely fascinating on stage; every moment, feeling, passing thought in his mind flickered and danced on his face, glimmered in his eyes. He loves Clarabelle with all the honesty of a poor country bumpkin.
I thoroughly enjoyed Rainey’s performance as Clarabelle; she brings the right balance of cloying guile and flirtation in her character. I liked what Clarabelle represents to Magno and what she signifies in the play. We discover, as the play progresses, that Clarabelle is greedy, tantalizing Magno with her wild promises of love and marriage. She leads him on, as though a life together is possible when in fact, during this time, Filipino men could not marry Caucasian women. When she no longer finds him useful, she dispenses him. She and her taunting laughter symbolizes the unattainable American Dream to Magno and the manongs.. the greed that makes them all victims.
Overall, the play was an invigorating adventure that ended all too soon. I found that the conclusion of the romance of Magno Rubio was somewhat abrupt. The final leg of Magno’s journey was left seemingly undeveloped. I wish I could have seen how Magno finally came to be.
Discover love, work for love, pray for love, and break for love with Magno Rubio!
Who: PAE Live! in association with Good Shepherd Ambulance Company
What: The Romance of Magno Rubio by Lonnie Carter, based on the sort story by Carlos Bulosan
Translated and directed by Bernardo Bernardo
When: Nov. 4 – Dec. 12
English: Thursday & Friday @ 8:00 pm, Sundays @ 3:00 pm
Tagalog: Saturdays @ 3:00 pm, 8:00 pm
Where: 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., East Hollywood, CA 90068
Tickets can be purchased here or call 323.461.3673
Free on-site parking (non-stacked)