Review: world premiere of wonderful ‘Se Llama Cristina’ at Magic Theatre

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 5/5 » Outstanding)

(“Se Llama Cristina” plays at the Magic Theatre from January 23 through February 17.)

Here’s some good news: The theatrical gods have decided to shower their blessings on Magic Theatre’s word premiere of Octavio Solis’s “Se Llama Cristina” and our first reaction must be one of great gratitude. It is always a privilege to be present at the creation of new work, even if it is of dubious quality. It is much more so when the work is one of superior vision and realization as is the case with “Se Llama Cristina”.

Expectations for this production have been deservedly high. Playwright Octavio Solis is widely held to be the most distinguished of Latino playwrights currently at work, and that is high praise considering the ever increasing excellence of Latino theatre in recent years. By any measure, Solis is one our leading playwrights, with multiple successful productions at most of the major regional theatres in the United States. Our anticipation has been heightened further because Solis makes his home in San Francisco (hurrah!) and has an excellent history with the Magic Theatre.

Nothing about this production is a disappointment.

Sarah Nina Hayon and Sean San José inworld premiere of Octavio Solis' "Se Llama Cristina" at Magic Theatre. (Photo: Jennifer Reiley)
Sarah Nina Hayon and Sean San José in the world premiere of Octavio Solis’s “Se Llama Cristina” at Magic Theatre. (Photo: Jennifer Reiley)

A man and a woman are passed out at a table in a depressingly impoverished apartment. There is a nearly empty crib holding, not a baby, but a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The man has a needle stuck in his arm, the woman is awaking from a nightmare. At first they appear to be strangers to one another. They do not know where they are. Both insist they have never used drugs and are puzzled by their circumstances. When they try to leave the apartment, they discover they are locked in. Even the window cannot be opened. It is like a Twilight Zone episode envisioned by William Burroughs or Charles Bukowski.

The reference here made to Burroughs and Bukowski is not inappropriate, as it gradually becomes apparent that the man is a poet, albeit more than a little manque. Gradually, the unnamed Man and Woman begin to piece together their relationship. She was an abused wife who called a rape hotline and reached a wrong number—his. He is a man who has failed in his relationships with women and declares “I have exiled myself from the Isle of Pussy.” Over the phone, they began to fall in love,  and, even though she soon realizes that he is not, in fact, a trained rape counselor, she agrees to come to his apartment.

Bit by bit, the two piece together their history of travel and travail. There are problems with the ex-husband, perhaps a baby, perhaps an abortion, it is all unclear. They are confused but struggling to make sense of who they are and how they came to be as they are.

For an uninterrupted hour and a half, in a series of riveting dialogues, fragments of poetry, unexpected visual tableaus and tumultuous emotional depths, the audience is taken for a ride through their life experiences together and apart, experiences which are both specifically Mexican American and unquestionably universal, full of irresistible tears and laughter.

Sarah Nina Hayon and Sean San Jose are perfectly cast as the Woman and Man. Rod Gnapp is equally effective in the somewhat hallucinatory role of the Woman’s abuser, a shadow character whom Gnapp manages to make both sinister and oddly sympathetic. Karina Guitierrez charms as a teenage girl who may represent the couple’s future.

‘Se Llama Cristina’ is a play of rare excellence and it is given a sterling production at the Magic, outstanding in every detail.

For further information, click here.

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“Se Llama Cristina” a world premiere by Octavio Solis, produced by Magic Theatre. Director: Loretta Greco. Set Design: Andrew Boyce. Costume Design: Alex Jaeger. Lighting Design: Burke Brown. Sound Design: Sara Huddleston. Dialect Coach: Deborah Sussel. Fight Direction: David Maier. Technical Director: Dave Gardner. Props Design: Jacquelyn Scott. Dramaturg: Dori Jacob. 

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