Chicago's Victory Garden presents The Romance of Magno Rubio

Already a hit in New York and California, the Midwest premiere of The Romance of Magno Rubio, directed and designed by award-winning Broadway artist Loy Arcenas in his Chicago directing debut, is May 28-July 11, 2004 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Press opening is Monday, June 7 at 7:30 p.m. Call the Victory Gardens box office, (773) 871-3000, for tickets and information, or purchase tickets online at

CHICAGO, February 24, 2004 -- "This is Filipino Spoken Word, Rap, Hip-Hop. We'll call it Manila Rap." - Lonnie Carter

Indeed, Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble member Lonnie Carter's signature spoken jazz riffs and verbal gymnastics, channeled to create a rhyme-driven, high- energy stage adaptation of Filipino author Carlos Bulosan's seminal short story about a lovestruck migrant worker in 1930's California, describes The Romance of Magno Rubio, Carter's newest word-play, receiving its Midwest premiere May 28-July 11, 2004 at Victory Gardens Theater, an American Center for New Plays.

The Romance of Magno Rubio, directed and designed by award-winning Broadway artist Loy Arcenas in his Chicago directing debut, is the 2003/04 season finale at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater. Previews begin May 28, 2004. Press opening is Monday, June 7 at 7:30 p.m. Performances run through July 11 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Call the Victory Gardens box office, (773) 871-3000, for tickets and information, or purchase tickets online at

The Romance of Magno Rubio tells the hard luck tale of Magno, a simple Filipino immigrant farm laborer in 1930's California who won't let hardship or heartbreak mar his hopeful spirit. When our hero, only 4 feet 6 inches tall, "meets" Clarabelle through a lonelyhearts ad, his fellow workers try to temper his irrational, long distance love affair. But Magno insists on paying one of his co-workers to pen long, heartfelt love letters to Clarabelle. After sending letter after letter, and larger and larger gifts, Magno finally proposes, and Clarabelle accepts - if he'll wire a large sum of cash for her long trip from Arkansas. Through clever word play, rhymes, rhythms, even songs sung in Tagalog by Magno and his bunkhouse mates, Carter's adaptation of The Romance of Magno Rubio reveals the lives of migrant workers, their struggles and dreams, and their longings for home and a better life.

The Romance of Magno Rubio premiered off Broadway in Fall 2002 at New York's Ma-Yi Theatre Company, an Asian American troupe, to enthusiastic notices, and received 8 Obie citations for Carter, Arcenas, Ma-Yi Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña (who wrote the additional Filipino text), and Ma-Yi's five-man cast of Filipino American actors. The Ma-Yi production subsequently traveled to the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila, where The Philippine Star raved:

"The Romance of Magno Rubio sparkles and bristles, it grips the audience from start to finish. Credit the standing ovation to Mr. Carter who has dramatized, and given bone and sinew to Bulosan's Asian-American experience while faithfully conveying the Filipino character, identity and amusing idiosyncrasies; and to brilliant director - set designer Loy Arcenas whose tight integration of choreographic movement, song, dramatic action and dialogue produce a compelling, powerful impact."

The Ma-Yi production went on to its West Coast premiere last November at California's prestigious Laguna Playhouse, where it played to more audience and critical acclaim:

"Carter's script is an amazing feat for a non-Filipino. He freely mixes rhyming couplets (a Philippine literary tradition), song, dance and ritualized movement with more naturalistic theatrical elements...(the play) crackles with the creative and performance energy of a work that's tonally and thematically of a piece." - Orange County Register

"(The Romance of Magno Rubio) is virtually a musical...Lonnie Carter's text throbs with rhyme and rhythm, and Loy Arcenas' staging adds literally striking effects - the actors often wield farm implements as percussion instruments." - Los Angeles Times

"In this enchanting West Coast premiere, Carter's colorful characterizations capture the heart and mind from beginning to end." - Backstage

Fast forward to Victory Gardens' Midwest debut of Magno Rubio, the play's third major production, for which Victory Gardens has assembled an all-local, all-Asian cast, including: Rodney To as Magno, Joseph Anthony Foronda, Frederic Garcia, Narciso Lobo and Lynn Pham. Joining director/designer Arcenas on the production team are Todd Hensley (lights), Christine Pascual (costumes) and Andre Pluess (sound.) Ellyn Costello is production stage manager.

Originally from the Philippines, award-winning Broadway artist, director and set designer Loy Arcenas has designed Broadway sets for Love!...Valor!...Compassion!, Prelude To A Kiss, Once on This Island, High Society!, The Night of the Iguana with Cherry Jones and William Petersen, and The Glass Menagerie with Julie Harris and Calista Flockhart. He has designed for the Goodman - The Good Person of Stezuan, The Night of the Iguana, Cry, the Beloved Country - and Steppenwolf - Nomathemba, The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Topdog/Underdog. Arcenas is the recipient of an Obie Award for sustained excellence in scenic design. Arcenas was resident director in 1999/2000 for New Dramatists in New York, where he first met Lonnie Carter. In addition to The Romance of Magno Rubio, which will tour the Philippines this summer in both Tagalog and English, again directed by Arcenas, the two just finished a workshop of Carter's new play China Calls at Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. Arcenas has directed four other productions for New York's Ma-Yi Theatre Co. - including Han Ong's Middle Finger and Swoony Planet and Ralph Peña's Flipzoids - as well as workshops at Playwrights Horizons, Manhattan Theater Club, New York Theatre Workshop and American Conservatory Theatre. His Bay Area directing credits include Jon Robin Baitz' adaptation of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, Mayo Simon's Split, and
Diana Son's Stop Kiss.

Lonnie Carter - charter member of the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble, native of Chicago's Northwest side, and "honorary Philippine American" - has spent nearly 30 years writing plays that jump racial and ethnic boundaries. He is widely acclaimed for his hip-hop dialect and rhythms, syncopated poetry and prose, humor, pathos, and sharp social commentary. Among his major plays are The Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy, Gulliver, Lemuel and last season's VGT world premiere, Concerto Chicago. These and others have been performed at Victory Gardens, La Mama, E.T.C. in New York, the American Place Theater and the Yale Repertory Theater. Carter has taught playwriting at New York University since 1979, and he first began his creative association with Loy Arcenas as a fellow member of New York's New Dramatists. Carter is a graduate of Marquette University and the Yale School of Drama. He was one of the youngest writers to receive a Solomon Guggenheim Fellowship, was twice a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Jenny McKean Moore Fellow at The George Washington University. Most recently, Carter was commissioned by the Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis to write a new work, The Lost Boys, about Sudanese refugee boys who have taken up residence in Fargo, ND.

The experiences of downtrodden laborers dreaming of a better life in America were themes that recurred in the work of Carlos Bulosan. Bulosan was born in Binalonan, Pangasinan to a farming family in 1911. At age 16, at the height of the Depression, he joined the enormous wave of mostly single men who left the Philippines in the 1920's and 1930's for America. Bulosan worked as a factory and farm worker for many years before becoming a labor activist. The author of several books of poetry, Bulosan's most famous book, America is in the Heart, fictionalized the horrendous working conditions of Filipino laborers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt commissioned him to write the essay "Four Freedoms." His radical activism landed him on Sen. Joseph McCarthy's blacklist of anti-American activity. He battled tuberculosis for many years and died of pneumonia in 1956 at age 44.

About Victory Gardens Theater
Victory Gardens Theater, home to more world premiere Manstage productions than any other Chicago theater, has remained true to its unique mission since 1974 - developing and producing new plays, most of them world premieres, with an emphasis on Chicago writers and its own 12-member Playwrights Ensemble. It is this ongoing relationship with twelve living playwrights which helped Victory Gardens receive the 2001 Tony Award for Regional Theatre, for "displaying a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theater nationally."

Victory Gardens continues to expand its artistic, financial and institutional boundaries in 2003/2004 under the guidance of Artistic Director Dennis Zacek, Managing Director Marcelle McVay, Director of Institutional Advancement Robert Alpaugh, Associate Artistic Director Sandy Shinner, Board President James P. Grusecki, and a dedicated staff and board. For the third year in a row, VGT, with a 2003/04 operating budget of $2 million, has surpassed 5,000 subscribers in this season

Victory Gardens Theater is designated an Established Regional Arts Institution by the Illinois Arts Council (IAC), and is partially supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, a CityArts Program 3 Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

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