Friday, February 1, 2013

"Se Llama Cristina" ☼ ☼ ☼ ?

Octavio Solis's "Se Llama Cristina" is a fascinating piece of playwriting without chronology. The audience is left to guess if what is happening on the stage is real, or a dream, or a fantasy, or happened already or will happen in the future. It is one of those pieces that critics love, because it has a lot of funny lines and is unlike other shows, but it is also gimmicky, and confusing -- not the kind of thing audiences usually take to quickly.

Sarah Nina Hayon and Sean San José wake out of a fog, in a cheap motel room with garbage strewn all over the floor. They seem to have been on a bender -- the bottle of Johnny Walker White Label and the needle still protruding from his arm are the clues. Also, they have no idea where they are -- they can't even remember their own names. Eventually we discover she is Vera and he is Miguel.

Rod Gnapp appears after awhile -- playing Abel, who might be Vera's husband, or her father, or even the suitor of her child, but the child might be her child or it might be her. We are big Rod Gnapp fans. He must work more than any other actor in the Bay Area, but this character with the menacing drawl is one he has done so many times it has become hard not see the actor instead of the character.

Karina Gutiérrez enters for a few minutes at the end of the show and brings some understanding to this hard-to-follow script. That she is not even listed as being in the show, because, one assumes, they have decided that we, the audience, shouldn't know whether she is real or not, is symbolic of the show-for-insiders approach author Solis and director Loretta Greco have taken with "Se Llama Cristina." 

As always, Solis has written some great lines. We loved the discussion about poetry, and the linking of undocumented aliens with poetry's undocumented words. San Franciscans will appreciate the short summary of Daly City. 

He gives us a lot to think about. But so much is unexplained, and we really aren't sure these locos make us care all that much. Is the chicken bone symbolic? Or is it just a piece of chicken? And nobody saw the baby under the chicken? 

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼ ?

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Se Llama Cristina" Three Stars with a Question Mark.  The ? is for that chicken bone, part of the unexplained symbolism that diminishes the show's impact for us. On the other hand, we liked Sean San José and Sarah Nina Hayon, and Dave Maier, who did the fabulous fight choreography in "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" -- our favorite recent Rod Gnapp show -- is on hand here too. And the Santo and Johnny guitar at the end is great. Nice musical choice by sound designer Sara Huddleston.

We have seen most of Octavio Solis's shows and have enjoyed them all. We always end up rooting for his flawed characters. Perhaps, as the show moves forward, Vera and Miguel will make us care a little more.

"Se Llama Cristina"
Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
Through February 17

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