Theater review: ‘The Romance of Magno Rubio’ at the Ford

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Pure theatricality enlivens ‘The Romance of Magno Rubio’ at [Inside] the Ford. This arresting take on Carlos Bulosan’s celebrated short story about a migrant Filipino farm worker in Depression-era California conveys inspired kinetic craft.

A double-cast production by PAE Live!, ‘Magno’ alternates Lonnie Carter’s 2002 Obie-winning adaptation with director Bernardo Bernardo’s new Tagalog translation. Bernardo’s staging negotiates designer Akeime Mitterlehner’s purposely bare-bones set like a campfire tale come to eloquent life.

Tireless, illiterate Magno (the memorable Jon Jon Briones), though short in stature, has enormous American dreams. For example, Clarabelle (Elizabeth Rainey), the Arkansas Amazon that Magno sees in a lonely-hearts magazine. College-educated Nick (Giovanni Ortega), who replaces caustic Claro (Erick Esteban) as scribe of the letters that accompany Magno’s gifts of jewelry and cash, suspects that the workers’ mascot is in thrall to a gold-digging floozy, but Magno is naively undeterred.

Director Bernardo pulls Filipino culture and reader’s theater, encompassing tinikling (a dance), kundimans (love songs), tableaux and rhyming couplets, into fluid expression. His creative team emphasizes atmosphere, particularly choreographer Peter de Guzman, costumer Dori Quan and guitarist Vincent Reyes, and the seamless cast is wonderful. Briones, buoyant and moving, makes an ideal Magno. Ortega’s empathetic Nick and Esteban’s antagonistic Claro are pitch-perfect polar opposites, with Rainey’s blond opportunist, Antoine Reynaldo Diel’s senior and Eymard Cabling’s junior workers, and Muni Zano’s reflective narrator completing the English-language roster.


They embrace this Manong parable with childlike commitment. My guess is that the Tagalog crew will prove equally magical.

-- David C. Nichols

‘The Romance of Magno Rubio/Ang Romansa ni Magno Rubio,’ [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays (Saturday shows in Tagalog). Ends Dec. 11. $25. (323) 461-3673 or Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.