Mu presents The Romance of Magno Rubio
(St. Paul – August 3, 2009) When Randy Reyes first saw Lonnie Carter’s lyrical Filipino American fable The Romance of Magno Rubio, he never imagined it would take so long to land a role in such a niche production himself. “After all, how many Filipino-born/Juilliard-trained actors are there?” he quips. “Apparently a lot, because years and years passed and though it has been produced internationally, I hadn't even gotten to audition for it.”
Fortunately for Reyes, Mu Artistic Director Rick Shiomi brought the opportunity to him. For Shiomi, the choice was easy: “Playing the lead in The Romance of Magno Rubio is a dream Randy has had for many years. He is perfectly suited to the role with his Filipino American background and his understanding of the cultural and political issues embedded in the play.”
Reyes could not agree more. After taking on Shakespeare at the Guthrie and classic song-and-dance in Mu’s most recent production of Flower Drum Song at Ordway Center’s McKnight Theater, the prospect of a whimsical, romantic lead tapped from his own heritage was a breath of fresh air. “There is a huge difference when you get to play a person of your own ethnic background,” he explains. “The language sits in your mouth a certain way, the movement feels right in your body, the emotions are in your muscles. It becomes less about acting and more about being—channeling a person already inside you.”
As the title character, Reyes portrays a naïve, lovesick Filipino immigrant farmer in the 1930s ridiculed by his friends after falling for a beautiful white American woman known to him only through a photo and correspondence by mail. The play is derived from the work of Filipino American poet Carlos Bulosan, and the source material permeates all facets of the play. Rhyming dialogue, Filipino dance, and music composed by Fabian Obispo are all integral pieces in the telling of the story.
Guiding Reyes on his journey is director Orlando Pabotoy, who created the role of Magno Rubio in the Ma-Yi Theater Company’s original Obie Award-winning production in 2002. A long-time friend of Reyes and fellow Filipino actor, Pabotoy has infused the preparation for the show with a strong awareness of the immigrant stories that inspired it. “Orlando has a real sense of how the play is grounded in the actual experiences of migrant workers,” says Shiomi.
In addition to setting the actors to intense training course in the traditional Filipino arts that he describes as “the foundation of the physical world of Magno Rubio,” Pabotoy also arranged for the actors to gain a personal perspective into their characters. “A very big part of this work is research, to try to find the closest thing to what it was like as a 1930's migrant worker” he asserts. “We met and spoke to migrant workers in southern Minnesota and tried to make some connection to what life was like for the Manongs then.”
The encounter certainly had an impact on Reyes, for whom The Romance of Magno Rubio is more than just another play. “It is an homage to the first Filipino immigrants who came to the United States in search of the American Dream,” he says. “They are the ones that have given me the opportunities I have today. It is their stories that we must keep alive.”
From the Artists
Randy Reyes: I first heard of The Romance of Magno Rubio in New York City, because my Filipino friend and fellow schoolmate Orlando Pabotoy was playing the lead role. The show was a huge hit and earned many accolades, including an Obie. I remember hoping that the show would be produced all over and I would be able to do it somewhere. After all, how many Filipino-born/Juilliard-trained actors are there? Apparently a lot, because years and years passed and though it has been produced internationally, I hadn't even gotten to audition for it. So imagine my excitement when Rick Shiomi mentioned the possibility of producing it here in Minneapolis. And in thinking about a director for this very theatrical, culturally specific, and physically demanding play, Orlando was my only choice. He not only played the part, but helped in creating the character. Working with a friend and fellow Filipino is a dream come true. I know he's going to kick my ass during the process, but I trust him with all of me.
There is a huge difference when you get to play a person of your own ethnic background. The language sits in your mouth a certain way, the movement feels right in your body, the emotions are in your muscles. It becomes less about acting and more about being. Channeling a person already inside you. Playing this role goes beyond the part itself. It is an homage to the first Filipino immigrants who came to the United States in search of the American Dream. They are the ones that have given me the opportunities I have today. It is their stories the we must keep alive. It is their experiences that we must learn from. It is their legacy that we must continue.
Orlando Pabotoy: Magno Rubio is one of those plays that stays with you once you've been touched by it and you will always look for ways to keep doing it. On a personal note: to have a wife who was born and raised in Minnesota, made saying "yes" to the offer to direct that much easier. In fact I've always looked for reasons to come to Minneapolis.
It was a truly great honor to be invited by Mu to direct this piece and I feel blessed to have a cast that is completely amazing and able to pick up everything that is thrown at them. The actors have been intensely engaged in training stick-work, and doing drills used in Eskrima (A form of Filipino martial arts) to form the foundation of the physical world of Magno Rubio. At the same time we have, with equal intensity, engaged in the music (singing and playing the guitar) as well as speaking the poetry of the text, both in English and in Tagalog.
A very big part of this work is research, to try to find the closest thing to what it was like as a 1930's Migrant Worker in Stockton, we met and spoke to Migrant workers in Southern Minnesota and tried to make some connection to what life was like for the Manongs then. I feel that the experience was invaluable to all of us who went.
For the actors, it is the love of telling the story of Magno in a specific way that I aim to instill during rehearsals. I aim to promote an aesthetic in the show touching on the reality of life then and what it would've been like to exist above the harsh reality in one’s heart and mind. To investigate, in a theatrical sense, the act of giving homage.