By Damaris Montalvo
“I just can’t have any more women yelling at me.”
That’s what one of my theatre companions – we’ll call him Malarkey – said after seeing Se Llama Cristina.
Great theatre puts up a mirror to your face, and there are some people that are not ready or willing to see their reflection. That’s what happened to Malarkey, who would have preferred we watch a nice musical. You see Malarkey is not one of my go-to theatre companions; he enjoys theatre for the escapism, not for the opportunity to be shown a slice of life – of reality – that is sad and dirty and broken … yet beautiful and hopeful. But he was available on LiveWired [LiveWired occurs once per production and includes $10 tickets with beer and pizza in the lobby after the performance] night, and I thought it might be fun for him.
I had been to the reading of Octavio Solis’ play at Boston Court in 2012, and my memory of the play was that it was about two broken people trying to help find their identities, running from the demons that haunted them, and finding in each other refuge to fill the voids and rebuild their lives under a cloak of poetry.
I did not remember many of the things that traumatized Malarkey – like the sexuality or the language – because I didn’t even notice them. The language –English, Spanish, Spanglish, nasty, poetic, ethereal, deeply expressive – is a core representation of our characters’ identities. Their bodies are critical means of expression for them – so much so that the production incorporated movement and dance to augment feelings when language isn’t enough.
I did remember the abuse that gut me open, but I also remembered the relentless survival and audacious hope that could heal, strengthen and grow.
Alas, I suffered through my first viewing of Se Llama Cristina – not because of the play, but because I was hyperaware of my companion’s feelings. Every time an f-bomb was dropped, I’d fret. Every time there was a violent scene, I’d sink deeper into my chair, half expecting him to walk out. Every time sex was barely even referenced, I’d put my hand to my forehead and hide beneath it, wondering when we’d reach the breaking point.
As soon as the play ended, I couldn’t wait to see it again. I yearned to be free from the burden of having subjected Malarkey to a play he wasn’t ready for. And I anxiously awaited my turn to really enjoy it. In that moment, I felt deeply grateful for my regular theatre buddy, Scooter.
Scooter is the perfect theatre buddy for me because:
1) He’s always willing. If he can afford it, nothing will stop him from going to every play in LA – especially if it means supporting our friends in the theatre community.
2) He’s always open-minded. Scooter views plays with a blank slate. It’s not even that he’s setting his judgment aside; there’s just no judgment there to begin with. He goes into every play willing and open, ready to plunge into the world that the play will take him to, playing by its rules, and not imposing any of his own.
He allows the play to breathe.
I’ve grown so accustomed to experiencing theatre with Scooter that I forget that not all theatregoers are like him.
And that’s not to say that every theatregoer should be like Scooter; not at all. He’s just the theatre buddy that I personally enjoy sharing plays with most often. And that’s really the value of a theatre buddy – a person who matches your theatergoing style.
But my Boyfriend is also a great theatre buddy – and kind of for the opposite reason I appreciate Scooter. Boyfriend is very critical and has certain needs and expectations from plays, movies and books. It’s hard for a performance to really knock him off his feet. While his critical eye can be a downer sometimes to my let’s-find-something-positive-about-this-play attitude, Boyfriend also provides the most interesting (often dissenting) perspective during our casual post-show conversation, calling into question assumptions, and making the discussion more meaningful.
When Scooter, Boyfriend and I watched Se Llama Cristina the second time, it was a completely different experience. I felt free to cry. I felt free to laugh (and my laugh is a hearty, unbridled laugh). I felt at home.
So if you’re looking for a theatre buddy, or think you have found him, put him to the test!
Ask yourself the following questions:
1) Have I been to a play with this person before?
2) If yes, what was that experience like? Whether you yourself liked the play or not, why did this person enjoy or NOT enjoy the play?
3) If no, what makes you excited about introducing this person to this play? What are you hoping you’ll get out sharing this experience? And are those person’s expectations the same as yours? In other words, why is this person interested in going to this play with you?
4) What other plays have they seen and enjoyed before? Why?
5) Have you seen the play you’re taking this person to before? If so, does it really suit them? Are there any red flags you should be thinking twice about?
And then leave your judgment at the door, and wait for your new buddy to surprise you. ‘Cause the reality is that even with these questions, you might not have enough information to really know if someone is going to make or break a play for you.
Just remember: don’t blame the play for bad company!