“Under Loy Arcenas’ tight-as-a-drumskin helming, the all-male ensemble rocks the house with this revival of ‘The Romance of Magno Rubio.’ The modern-day folk tale about the lovesick dreams of a Filipino-American farm worker won a 2003 OBIE for scribe Lonnie Carter, who adopted the fable from a short story by Carlos Bulosan that exposed the plight of migrant laborers during the 1920s and ’30s… [The] present-day furor over illegal immigration gives resonance to the play’s blunt take on exploited farm laborers like Magno Rubio (Jojo Gonzalez) and his fellow workers in the California fields...
“What keeps us involved (and, in the case of one enthusiastic preview audience, shouting with delight) is the skill with which helmer Arcenas has adapted traditional Filipino musical rhythms and storytelling traditions and flawlessly integrated their joyous aspects into an exceedingly grim tale.” (Marilyn Stasio, Variety)
“Director Loy Arcenas has provided a wonderfully vivid production that is superbly acted by the five-member ensemble, especially Jojo Gonzalez. The actor plays the titular role of a diminutive, love-struck laborer who has become infatuated with an Arkansas woman he has met through a lonely-hearts ad.” (Frank Scheck, New York Post)
“The teamwork and the obvious rapport that ‘Magno Rubio's five-person cast has is undeniable. They influence and inform each other much like a relay team passing the baton from one runner to the next--or a jazz band feeding off the group’s collective energy. Jojo Gonzalez and Arthur T. Acuña give endearingly powerhouse performances as Magno and Nick, respectively, with Bernardo Bernardo, Ramon de Ocampo, and Paolo Montalban providing what may be the best support in town right now as their co-workers. All five actors are so thoroughly convincing that one never doubts for a second that they are anyone else but those characters.” (Michael Criscuolo, nytheatre.com)
Ma-Yi, a theater company founded and still run by Fil-Am actors, brought the original English-language version of "Magno Rubio" to Manila in 2003. A year later Loy Arcenas (also a Tony-nominated set designer whose credits include the Broadway runs of "Once On This Island" and "Love! Valour! Compassion!") directed a Filipino version for Tanghalang Pilipino that starred Soliman Cruz (Maximo Oliveros' tatay in the movie), Paolo Rodriguez, Roeder Camanag, Paolo O'Hara and Noel Rayos.
I saw the Filipino version, and I've not forgotten it--one of those plays that left my heart near-bursting with so much joy, rage and tingling wonderment. Seriously, if I ever win the lotto jackpot, "Magno Rubio" is one of those plays I'd bankroll and tour around the country, along with Floy Quintos' "St. Louis Loves Dem Filipinos (the musical)," Alfonso Dacanay's "The Day the Dancers Came" in a twinbill with perhaps Chris Martinez's "Welcome to IntelStar," a revival of either "Katy!" or "Larawan (the musical)," and Sining Kambayoka's production of Frank Rivera's "Halik sa Kampilan." I'll forget about being a theater critic and become an impresario instead.
Bibili kayo tiket ha?
Ma-Yi's guiding lights include executive director Jorge Ortoll, whom I got to interview early this year for the launch of "Savage Stage," a groundbreaking anthology of original Ma-Yi plays; and artistic director Ralph Pena, whom I haven't met but who e-mailed me an appreciative note after I wrote about the theater community's memorial service for Ogie Juliano a couple of months ago. Very thoughtful of him.
Ma-Yi, Jorge, Ralph, you guys are amazing. Thanks for making us all so proud.
Correction: I meant Alfonso Dacanay's play "First Snow of November." Blush, blush.