In his playwright's note for Se Llama Cristina at Theatre @ Boston Court, Octavio Solis explains that he started the one act 20 years ago during his wife's pregnancy to purge himself of "night terrors" at the prospect of becoming a father. Two decades later, he rescued the unfinished script from a kill file, smoothing the rough edges with the benefit of wisdom and distance. Yet Se Llama Cristina, directed by Robert Castro, remains a raw, ragged journey that takes the audience through the disorienting logic of a fever dream, gradually intensifying before it breaks.
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A man (Justin Huen) and woman (Paula Christensen) claw themselves awake from a bender in a fleabag apartment. Bereft of their identities, surrounded by drug paraphernalia and empty bottles - and a vacant bassinet in the corner - they start to recognize that they share histories, tragedies and, possibly, a child. As memories come into focus, we snap back and forth between past and present, to her abuse at the hands of an ex (Christian Rummel), to his upbringing with an absent mother. Each fresh revelation produces another shift in the theatrical footing.
Se 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. A set of glaring fluorescent tubing (designed by the performance artist Gronk) entraps the characters in a series of prisons of circumstance and their own making. Only Amielynn Abellera, in a brief, buoyant appearance as the Girl, appears exactly as she is.
Redemption doesn't come cheap for the characters or audience of Se Llama Cristina, but its victories are hard-won.
The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon., Feb. 3, 8 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 5, 8 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 19, 8 p.m.; through Feb. 23. (626) 683-6883, www.bostoncourt.com.