THE ROMANCE OF MAGNO RUBIO (Carlos Bulosan). Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). To May 29. For times, see Theatre Listings, page 105. Rating: NN
The Magno Rubio of the title is a small-statured but hard-working Filipino migrant worker on the U.S. West Coast in the 1930s. After reading a lonely hearts magazine, he becomes obsessed with a statuesque Caucasian woman named Clarabelle and writes her letters, gives her money and eventually asks to marry her.
Based on a short story by Carlos Bulosan , himself a migrant worker in the 30s, the play comes to life through song, choreography and simple language, much of it in rhyme, as if the players were telling a cautionary tale, something recounted together over a campfire.
The script can be compelling and earthy, although I'm not sure we need a geography lesson telling us all the countries in South America. And while director Romeo Candido keeps the story moving along energetically, I question his use of a filmic device to frame Clarabelle's coy letters. What do films mean to Magno? Romance? Escape?
The performances are uneven, ranging from Jon de Leon's reliable boss, Nick, to Dean Raphael Vargas's overwrought Claro. As Magno, Byron Abalos 's vocal pitch remains constant throughout, making his lines hard to take in. The set, dominated by wooden crates, isn't used to full effect, despite some attempts to make music from it.