Orlando Pabotoy brings Caesar to life

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The playwright and actor in dual roles: As father…

The playwright and actor in dual roles: As father…

By Tricia J. Capistrano

“You know what makes a performance great,” I said to my son, when he started to perform on stage— when you’re “bigay na bigay.”

“Give na give,” I explained some more, when you give your whole heart.

My son studies ballet and has been in several shows produced by the New York City Ballet. I could not coach him on his dancing—I love to dance but can’t—I realized however, I could teach him how to connect to one’s audience, which having lived in New York City, I have been a part of many times.

In 2002, my husband and I watched “The Romance of Magno Rubio,” staged by Ma-Yi Theater. Ma-Yi is a New York City based theater group whose mission is to develop and produce plays by Asian American writers. “The Romance of Magno Rubio” is based on a short story written by Carlos Bulosan, the US’s first Asian American writer. It is based on Bulosan’s experience. A Filipino farm worker comes to the United States in the 1930s to follow the American dream. While working in the farms, he meets a woman from the classified ads section and falls in love. It’s a heart-breaking play. While talking about their situation, the farm workers joke but their lines are also bittersweet. The play is told in rhymes and song, juxtaposed by Magno Rubio and his fellow farmers hacking fields with their sticks while performing arnis, the Filipino martial art. The play won eight Obie Awards. My husband and I liked it so much we saw it a second time.

Both times, I came home thinking about the play and how amazing the actor who played Magno Rubio was. I had just moved from Manila to New York City then and through marriage became Filipino American. At that time, I was beginning to study Filipino American history, about the hundreds of Filipinos who came to the U.S. in the 20s and 30s and became farm workers in Seattle, Oregon, and California. For me, Orlando Pabotoy made flesh the genius and heartaches of our manong, Carlos Bulosan.

Last Sunday, October 21, after more than a decade, my husband and I were able to watch Mr. Pabotoy perform again. Ma-Yi Theater commissioned “Sesar.” Sesar was developed during Mr. Pabotoy’s Fox Foundation Actor Fellowship. Mr. Pabotoy wrote and then performs in “Sesar” the entire 90 minutes. He plays both Filipino father and son who together contemplate the story of Julius Cesar in a family bathroom in Fiji.

…as son

…as son

Sometimes because of the rapid transitions, it is hard to tell if the father or the son is speaking. But no matter, the stage of the Beckett Theater in Theater Row is wide so it makes you feel like you are in the same space with them; one can catch up quickly. At key moments, the all-white bathroom is given rich texture by lighting designer Oliver Watson. When the lights return, Mr. Watson has transported the audience to yes, a bathroom, but in another place and dilemma in time.

It is Pabotoy’s ability though, under the direction of Richard Feldman, to be both young and old, American, Shakespearean, and Visayan that makes the play stand out. Mr. Pabotoy speaks many lines in Filipino accented English and Bisayan which adds more depth and warmth to Shakespeare’s already masterful lines.

We read parts of Julius Caesar when I was in high school, and although my English teacher was excellent, the play did not come to life for me like it did in “Sesar.”

Mr. Pabotoy does play both characters, but the nurturing affection, the deference, and the camaraderie between father and son, while they take us on their journey learning about Julius Caesar and his cohorts are remarkable.

In Tagalog, “give na give” is used informally. I taught my son that phrase because, as a Filipino American with little exposure to Tagalog, he will find it easy to remember. It’s now part of our family lexicon, sometimes after watching a ballet, he will tell me– “Mama, the dancer (who played X) is not “give na give.”

I encourage you to watch Mr. Pabotoy in “Sesar.” In Magno Rubio, he was already amazing. In “Sesar,” he generously gives us his all.

The play runs until November 1. You can get tickets here: http://ma-yitheatre.org/onstage/sesar/

Tricia J. Capistrano’s essays have appeared in Newsweek and MrBellersNeighborhood.com. She is the author of “Dingding, Ningning, Singsing and Other Fun Tagalog Words.” Her essay, “Inadequately Asian” which appeared in this publication, was chosen as the Best Personal Essay by the Philippine American Press Club in 2017. You can follow her on Twitter @tjcapistrano.

© The FilAm 2018

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