Se Llama Cristina: Theater Review
An anxiety dream of impending parenthood unfolds in Pasadena.
An entwined couple comes to in a barren white space, unable to remember where or who they are, or to escape. There is evidence of intravenous drug use, which both deny. It seems like a quandary squarely in the Sartre or Bunuel tradition, but as the feverish panic of these two strangers unfolds, it reveals itself, so gradually as to take nearly the entire play, to be an anxiety dream of sharing impending parenthood. The fears of innate unworthiness and passing on the curse of one’s inadequacies are made physically palpable by the passionately suspicious pair, who warily mistrust one another as much as they doubt themselves.
Octavio Solis (Lydia in 2009 at the Mark Taper Forum) is an accomplished playwright who knows how to manipulate a situation for maximum psychological insight, and this text appears to be so close to the bone that its subjectivity comes across with raw tension. Nevertheless, it’s often hard to ignore the bald dramaturgical mechanics of the overworked metaphors, despite ravishingly resourceful commitments from all four players.
Pragmatically organized by the Boston Court as the third of three sequential individual premiere productions by Magic Theatre in San Francisco and Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas, the previous presentations of Se Llama Cristina were naturalistically realized, and director Robert Castro has instead taken this one in a radically different direction: abstract, austere, distilled and concentrated. Its deliberately focused intensity highlights some of the play’s originality in spasms of unalloyed mental agony while scanting motivations and causing jarring shifts, all intended but only some of which are successfully effective.
Above all, these ferocious actors, abetted by the reliably subtle and provocatively collaborative sound design of John Zalewski & Veronika Vorel, compel that attention must be paid to every nuance of loathing and insecurity. Deprived of any place to hide, even of props, their emotional nakedness fascinates with their immense presence and profound invention. Justin Huen (The Man) frequently risks forfeiting empathy, so tortured is he by his conviction of his own unfitness, yet he compels compassion by dint of his unstinting good intentions. Paula Christensen (The Woman) defies all stereotypes from which her character draws, defiantly individual in every line reading and striking posture. In smaller bits, Christian Rummel plays a double role – or is it? – as a threatening abusive husband and a bad news boyfriend with surpassing menace laced with a jarring drollery, while Amielynn Abellera invests her quick-sketched bit as perhaps the adolescent Cristina with ingenuity and a most original presence.
Se Llama Cristinais one of those plays where one must embrace its inspirations and sincerity with indulgence for its lapses into either the obvious or the obscure. There’s a great deal of goodwill in its bad vibes, and finding that theme mirrored in the play’s messiness reflects just how valuable it is to tackle such a pertinent theme.
Venue: The Theatre @ Boston Court, Pasadena (runs through Feb. 23)
Cast: Paula Christensen, Justin Huen, Christian Rummel, Amielynn Abellera
Playwright: Octavio Solis
Director: Robert Castro
Set designer: Gronk
Lighting designer: Ben Zamora
Music: John Zalewski
Sound designer: John Zalewski & Veronika Vorel
Costume designer: Victoria Petrovich
A National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere presented by The Theatre @ Boston Court