Se Llama Cristina: video preview

On Writing Se Llama Cristina, by Octavio Solis

Octavio Solis #2The title character of the play is invisible. But Cristina is very present in every choice that is made on the stage. As she is present in every decision I make in my life. After all, she is based on my daughter. Or so it seemed to me at first. Now I think not. I think she is based on my terror.

About 20 years ago, when I learned that my wife was pregnant and that I was going to be a father, I began to write this play. I was feeling scared at the prospect of this new little life coming into our home, and I had paralyzing doubts about my ability to carry out my fatherly duties, and even wondered whether I deserved her. So I started to write this strange play. In it, I meant to express all my fears and anxieties about becoming a dad. I thought I might be terrible at performing my duties; I was afraid that I would be cruel and violent or, at the very least, cold and uncaring. But my greatest fear was that I would abandon my daughter, that I would on one final disheartening occasion wish her away. The world is filled with too many accounts of men who are done in by the challenges of fatherhood, and I wondered if mine would be one of them.

At any rate, without knowing what I was really writing about, I found myself in a bare room with two people waking up from a deep sleep to discover that they had forgotten everything they knew before. I made the discoveries as they made them, I saw the crib when they saw it, I found their memories when their bodies remembered. The play was vague and unruly and I didn’t know where it was going; I only knew I needed it to help purge me of what I called my “night terrors” (yes, parents have them too.). At some point, I hit a wall. I didn’t know where to go next, I couldn’t write any further, and so I put the play on a floppy and consigned it to my Fail File. I guess I was in the belly of the beast, where my perspective was necessarily skewed.

A few years ago, Kent Thompson of The Denver Center for the Performing Arts offered me a commission to write his company a play and I accepted. It was then that I took that disk off the file and read the play again and suddenly I knew what the play was about. I knew how to finish it. I knew how the story would resolve itself because I know how mine turned out. My daughter is grown into a beautiful young lady with a bright future and she is the evidence that it turned out okay. Fatherhood simply required me to be there when she needed me, and though, I haven’t been perfect, this play is poignantly telling me today, as it attempted to do so twenty years ago, that I didn’t do too badly. But Se Llama Cristina is also reminding me that the terrors of fatherhood never go away.

Review Rundown: Se Llama Cristina

la_weekly_logo_265x70Se Llama Cristina belongs to a school of theater that discomfits as much as it gentles. At once gritty and highly lyrical, Boston Court’s handling keeps the audience almost permanently off-balance. Christensen’s performance merges vulnerable physicality with fury, but we never quite know whether to take her at her word. Huen’s good-guy act always threatens to slip on his love of the bottle, and Rummel’s buffoonery alternates with a quicksilver brutality.

Click here to read the entire review.

pasadena_star_logo“Se Llama Cristina” references the one character who, though the subject, is not on the stage: the baby they fear and anticipate. Performing this play without a break keeps the flow of the dream going. And it doesn’t stop when you leave. Like any fine work of art, it will keep on offering sudden realizations for weeks to come.

Click here to read the entire review.

kcrwThe play opens with two bodies writhing on the floor. A man. A woman. It seems vaguely sexual but also violently abstract. As the limbs and the text come into sharper focus, we discover that this couple is coming out of a drug addled haze, or maybe they’re still in it. The man looks down horrified to discover a needle still in his arm – an image all the more haunting given the news of recent days.

Click here to read the entire review.

2010-08-25 THR SketchPragmatically 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.

Click here to read the entire review.

artsinlaAt eye level for audience members in the front rows, a fluorescent bulb shines outward, diminishing our ability to see the actors and even completely barring our view of them when they’re prone. On the upstage wall, a slightly dimmer fluorescent band seems to delineate landscapes of the Southwest. The rest of the visible lighting plot blasts white light on the actors and the front rows. Can Solis and the actors engage us after all this? They can and do. We humans are a mess, often unaware of our potential, let alone our identities. Yet, out of the darkness of this play, at its very last moments, Solis posits hope and optimism.

Click here to read the entire review.

latimes1The performers submit to the emotional demands of Solis’ relentlessly boisterous 80-minute script, but the sound and fury are more exhausting than edifying. The experience is akin to having a front row seat at the presentation of a stranger’s nonsensical bad dream.

Click here to read the entire review.

stage-and-cinema-small-square-box-jpgSomewhat similarly to Sartre’s No Exit, two strangers awaken in an unfamiliar place from which there is no apparent escape. The area of their imprisonment is marked by a suspended horizontal steel rectangle lit on all sides by fluorescent tubes which turn on and off at moments unrelated to anything happening on stage.

Click here to read the entire review.

Se Llama Cristina: Production Photos (Photographer: Ed Krieger)

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From The Theatre @ Boston Court’s Artistic Directors

As our tenth season draws to a close, we are writing to express our heartfelt gratitude for the ridiculously rewarding endeavor that has been the journey of The Theatre @ Boston Court thus far.

We feel so blessed. From the moment this building was a gleam in the eye of Clark Branson, and the collective creators an idea in the mind of Eileen T’Kaye, it has been such a pleasure and a gift to create this grand adventure with you, our wondrous and intrepid audience.

Really truly, from the moment we brainstormed what the vision for the theatre could be to now, ten years later, when we still walk down the halls giggling, saying, “Really? Really?!”

In those early years we were a small but mighty band – Eileen T’Kaye, Michael Seel, Michetti, and Kubzansky–running on the log to stand up, doing plays no one had ever heard of, often to tiny houses. But here we are, at the completion of our 10th Anniversary Season, with a track record and plenty of awards and accolades, but most importantly, with loyal and adventurous audiences who know they’re unlikely to know what the play is they’re about to see, but who are willing and eager to go on the ride.

And what a tenthseason it was. From David Wiener’s achingly beautiful, highly poetic Cassiopeia, to Dan Dietz’s viciously funny post-American-Revolution-serial-killer-play-with-Rockabilly-music, American Misfit, to our co-pro with Nancy Keystone and Critical Mass of Alcestis, which highly physicalized and made both modern and universal a meditation on sacrifice in marriage and the rituals of death, to Jessica’s three-person adaptation of Richard II, RII, in which three stunning actors investigated Shakespeare’s text as the ultimate identity crisis… This season feels emblematic of The Theatre @ Boston Court, and the trajectory we hope to continue.

And we’ve had some very important milestones in this, our tenth year. Several of our productions have made Critics’ Ten Best lists for 2013. We were given a grant by the American Theatre Wing, the folks who award the Tonys, in recognition of Boston Court as an emerging player in the national theatrical landscape. And we recently received an NEA grant in support of the first phases of an ambitious New Works Development program, which we’ve created with our brilliant co literary managers, Emilie Beck and Aaron Henne, and we see this grant as a significant honor and milestone toward being able to realize the next phases of this exciting program. 

But the most important thing we want to share with you as 2013 draws to a close is purely, gratitude. Gratitude because we’re sharing this ride with YOU, the people who are also passionate about the experience we’re creating together, who are with us in the lobby, at late night salons, at illuminations panels, in passionate discussions, engaging the cultural conversation, asking rich questions in passionate, adventurous ways. That’s the reason we feel energized to keep doing what we’re doing, to continue to challenge ourselves and you, to keep creating a unique experience that we can have nowhere else but at Boston Court, together.

This is what we feel so blessed to share with you. Thank you.

Yours with gratitude, 

Jessica Kubzansky and Michael Michetti

Artistic Directors, The Theatre @ Boston Court


Click here to donate to Boston Court.


The vulnerability in music

By Damaris Montalvo

I’m pretty sure that if you would’ve told me that I was going to see a performance that’s being described as a “liter-usical” based on a text called HAM, I would have probably envisioned a live reading of Orwell’s Animal Farm with jazz hands, sequins and perfect harmonies.

I wouldn’t have expected the thrilling rollercoaster ride of emotion that was The Sam Harris Experience. I wouldn’t have expected the beautifully woven interplay of a literary reading with appropriately and strategically chosen musical numbers, performed the supremely talented Sam Harris, who took me through time and space and through the whole spectrum of emotion. I never would have expected him to make me laugh. And cry. And laugh because I’m crying.

But then again, I don’t often know what to expect of the Music @ Boston Court.

I expanded my membership this year beyond the theatre membership to include four music performances, having experienced Orpheus and Euridice and Bruno Louchouarn’s Voces en el Polvo (Voices in the Dust). The latter was deeply meaningful to me because it was based on the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City and “los topos” – the moles – the citizens who would dig through the rubble to save people, to save children. I grew up in Mexico City, where I was raised and went to school until I left for college, so this story resonated deeply with me and my family.

So I decided to give the music membership a shot this year, and I’m so happy I did. I didn’t quite know what to expect – especially given that I know next to nothing about music. So I can’t really wax eloquent about sonatas or arrangements or this or that, but I don’t need to. Because my experience of Music @ Boston Court hasn’t really been about the music itself but about something much more profound: it’s been deeply introspective, like a mirror being held to my own face.

In fact, when I think about the way in which I respond to the plays at the Theatre @ Boston Court and juxtapose it with the way I respond to the Music @ Boston Court, I can see a striking difference. While I certainly have deeply emotional reactions to the plays, I also know enough and see enough theatre to allow for a fair amount of interpretative analysis to accompany an emotional response. However, being quite ignorant about music history and appreciation, I notice that I am left with a purely emotional response that turns my analytical mind the only way it can go: inward.

And honestly, it makes me feel very vulnerable.

So I find myself sitting in the Branson space, letting the music inform my thoughts. This was most noticeable to me during the two Piano Spheres performances I attended, each a tour de force in its own right:

  • Visual Music with Vicki Ray
  • Transcendent Svrcek plays Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata

Vicki Ray played piano music created by artists who were inspired by other art forms. I remember in particular a piece inspired by the pointillists, as I recall how the notes evoked the small dots that form the whole. I noticed, though, that during each piece, my mind would inevitably begin to wander – my thought shaped by the rhythm and the sound of the music. Whenever a piece became chaotic, cacophonic or incongruous, my thoughts would jumble and turn pessimistic, and I’d start to think about pending or unresolved issues or tasks, and I’d grow irritable or stressed. When the tune became gentler, milder, I’d compose myself and mellow out, my train of thought gradually morphing until I eventually came to think of positive things, like my love.

These feelings were further heightened in the Ives’ sonata, as it was played as a continuous piece; whereas Vicki Ray provided context in between each of her beautifully curated pieces, making me snap back into the current moment, Ives’ sonata is meant to be played straight through, so Susan Svrcek took us this herculean task that allowed me to dive into my own consciousness and explore some of the dark feelings I’d been pushing aside or unwilling to face. Deep feelings about life goals, identity, direction. Everything from career to family to national identity and sense of self.

This is, of course, perfectly fitting when you realize that the piece is evocative of Ralph Waldo Emerson (transcendentalist who placed the individual above all), Nathaniel Hawthorne (Romantic whose bears deep psychological complexity), the Alcotts (Louisa May was a feminist novelist), and Henry David Thoreau (transcendentalist and hardcore civil disobedient).

And so these deeply experiential Music @ Boston Court shows have me feeling like the other performance I saw this year: New Sound of Silent Film: Tom Peters’ Live Scoring of Carl Theodore Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. I took a semester-long class about Joan of Arc in film, history and literature in college, and we saw this film, which is fascinating because the original negative was destroyed in a fire until a copy was discovered in a mental asylum in Norway. The film draws parallels between Joan’s martyrdom and Jesus’ sacrifice and employs the use of close-ups to build the sense of oppression Joan feels. Having the opportunity to watch a live scoring of this silent film was unique and formidable.

So I can’t wait to see what Mark Saltzman has in store for the 2014 season.

I’m waiting for more Piano Spheres to help me reveal things about myself that I’ve been hiding, and I’m expecting more of the unexpected.

The beauty of repeat viewings

By Damaris Montalvo

I’m a repeat theatre-goer. If I find a play delicious, you can pretty much expect to see me there at least one more time, as I will want to savor every line all over again. To me, it’s critical to take advantage of the opportunity of live theatre, because I will never see the same performance again. With movies, you can always buy the DVD, and the film will be the same every time you see it; if you experience it differently, it’s because you have changed, not the movie. But with live theatre, anything can change. A subtle facial expression one night might make a big difference in the way you interpret a scene. A missed cue, a light change, or the audience itself can provide a completely difference experience – and I love that unique opportunity that only theatre can afford us.

I became a member at Boston Court in 2010 after I saw Oedipus el Rey five times. I would’ve probably seen it a couple more times had I not caught it at the very tail end of the run – right before it extended for a couple more weeks. I knew then that Boston Court would expose me to the kind of theatre that I’d want to see – thought-provoking, sometimes disturbing, beautiful theatre with deeply human stories.

Next came Twentieth-Century Way, which I saw seven times.

And so has continued a tradition of repeat viewings, for Boston Court continually delivers production that I want to see over and over again. Save for one exception, over the past four seasons, I have seen every show at least twice, but mostly an average of three times per run.

One example of the power of a repeat viewing was with Creation, produced as the last show of the 2012 season. The first time I saw the play, I felt deep sympathy for Ian, an evolutionary biologist who is struck by lightning and becomes obsessed with music that only he can hear. I thought of his struggle to articulate and properly express what he was experiencing, and I felt that his wife, Sarah, was being selfish and not making an enough of an effort to understand what her husband was going through or adapt to this change.

The second time I saw the play, I felt deeply resentful towards Ian, perceiving him as selfish, ignoring his wife’s needs in favor of his own newfound obsession, hurting not only his wife but also Zach, a promising young musician in his greedy pursuit.

What’s delightful about multiple viewings is that they allowed me to explore the complex dynamic that was developing between these two individuals and the people they were impacting. Creation is a play about what we choose to believe, and the events or moments that lead us to listen to one thing and stop listening to another – and the repeat viewing helped me understand that there is no one-dimensional reading in this kind of interaction. Moreover, it made it me understand the motivations behind each character’s actions and simultaneously love and hate their actions.

Recently, the beauty of repeat viewings shone through once again during R II, Boston Court’s last play this year. With three actors playing multiple roles in a Shakespeare play, it’s natural for your attention to be divided on a first viewing. There are so many layers to appreciate in R II, that each viewing allowed me to uncover a different layer.

For instance, the first time I watched the play, my experience was all about getting acquainted with the play itself – with the plot and how the structure was different from the original, which I was familiar with, and with how the three actors were interacting. The second time, feeling familiar with the aforementioned elements, I appreciated the details, like the set design, particular actor’s gestures with each character, and the language itself.

The third time, I sat in a different spot from the first two times and got to really appreciate some of Jim Ortlieb’s facial expressions – especially in transition between characters. You’d think that in a play with only three actors it’d be easy to play attention to what each one of them is doing, but the subtleties of talented actors are endless. I realized in this third viewing that I had mostly been paying attention to John Sloan during those moments and had missed out on these great transformational moments.

During my fourth and final viewing of R II, I got to admire and appreciate Paige White’s rendition of Aumerle – a secondary character that I had kind of overlooked and underestimated during the other performances. I had admired Paige’s Bolingbroke immensely, but I hadn’t really noticed how masterful her embodiment of Aumerle is – this young noble who is essentially the only one who genuinely looks up to Richard, almost as a big brother, and whose identity will also be shattered when the dynamics change.

And at the end of the day, one of the reasons I enjoy Boston Court plays so much is that they lend themselves to repeat viewings. The staff selects plays with multiple layers, multiple meanings to uncover, multiple interpretations that yield a different experience each time. Plus, it’s nice that I get pizza and beer after the show sometimes. Or that I get a pre- or post-play talkback on acting, writing, theme or other components of the production that will help round out my understanding of the play. Or that I get complimentary wine and great conversation.

Most of all, I get to feel grateful because I feel like I’ve learned something new each time. Like a piece has been opened up to learn something knew about humanity – whether it be about our frailties, our cruelty, our compassion, our love, or our yearning for connection.