Se Llama Cristina at the Magic Theatre Bends Time, Reality, and Parenting

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(Photo: Jennifer Reiley)
Sarah Nina Hayon and Sean San José in Octavio Solis' Se Llama Cristina at Magic Theatre through February 17

In Octavio Solis' new play, Se Llama Cristina, which had its world premiere at the Magic Theatre on January 30, a man and a woman wake up in a room with no memory of who they are or how they got there. And they have a sneaking suspicion they might be parents.

"They start with a blank slate -- they don't know who they are, they don't know where they are; they don't even remember having a child," Solis said. "There's just an empty crib with a chicken leg in it."

Solis started working on this play about 18 years ago, right after his daughter Gracie was born. After about 20 pages, he put it away because he says he didn't like it or know what he was doing, but now he felt more able to approach it.

"I've had 18 years with my daughter, and I feel like I know that journey a little better about the trepidation I had about being a parent," he said. "When you're in the belly of the beast like that, it's too dark in there."

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Courtesy of Octavio Solis
Playwright and director Octavio Solis

Loretta Greco, the artistic director of the Magic and the director of this play, and a parent herself, can relate to that.

"For Octavio and myself this is a very personal play," she said. "The doubts never stop. You have to have a license to drive or catch a fish, but any fool can have a kid."

Solis wrote Se Llama Cristina (originally called Baby Girl) for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. But when they decided it wasn't right for them, Solis figured that was it. Then Shirley Fishman, the dramaturge at La Jolla Playhouse and a friend of both Solis and Greco, went to a reading of the play. She called Greco to say the play was perfect for the Magic. Greco agreed, and she says she "stalked" Solis to get the play on stage here.

"It's so muscular and so adventurous in structure and so quintessentially Octavio," she said. "It needs to happen with an audience in close proximity. For all reasons, it's a Magic play."

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Photo: Jennifer Reiley
Rod Gnapp and Sarah Nina Hayon in the NNPN rolling world premiere of Se Llama Cristina

It means a lot to Solis that the play premieres here (it then goes on to Dallas and Boston as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere). He moved to San Francisco from Texas 23 years ago in part because of the Magic, he says, and their reputation for doing daring new work and nurturing writers. Within a year his play, Man of the Flesh, was produced there, and he gives credit to the Magic for launching his career as a playwright with a national reputation.

"I'm doing the kind of writing that really stretches the notions of reality," he said. "This isn't the place for realism at all. There are ways in which they like to bend time and realism and do things that are just crazy, and that suits me."

"There's nothing more captivating than the idea that we can overcome our fate, that we can transcend whatever has been handed to us," Greco said. "The idea of transcendence is incredibly compelling to me as a human being and a theater maker."

Watch Octavio Solis and Loretta Greco talking about Se Llama Cristina.

Se Llama Cristina plays at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, through Feb. 17. Tickets are $30-$60. Call the box office at 441-8822.

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