Night Terrors In New Play
You can't pigeonhole Octavio Solis or his plays. He's adapted John Steinbeck's short story collection The Pastures of Heaven, and Cervantes' Don Quixote for the stage.
But most often he mixes the mundane with the surreal, hard realities with magical realism, putting working-class, Mexican-American characters in emotional peril.
I talked to Solis a few days ago at San Francisco's Magic Theatre, during a break from rehearsal. He told me his new play, Se Llama Cristina, is about night terrors.
Octavio Solis: Usually when we think of night terrors, it's something we ascribe to the children, to toddlers. They wake up screaming, and they don't know why. And it's not a specific nightmare, and they're even awake, but they're kind of asleep with their eyes open.
But I think night terrors can also be attributed to the parents. It's those chills, those doubts that we have that wake us up in the middle of the night that make us question our ability to be real parents.
Solis started the play when his daughter was an infant, wrote twenty pages, then put it aside because, he says, it didn't make sense, even to him. In this revived and finished version. Solis gives that fear of being a bad parent to his two lead characters.
Octavio Solis: They're two characters who honestly really are convinced that they can't be parents. That they're not parents. And yet they wake up from this dope nod in this squalid room, with a crib in the room, but no baby. And they wonder, where's the baby. And then they discover, over a process of remembering, and playing out, acting out those memories, they discover that the baby was theirs, and now they need to find it.
Musiker: In fact, what's in the crib is a fried chicken.
Solis: Is a leg of chicken, it's a drumstick.
They don't know what it means. They know it's a symbol of something. They read so many things into it.
But in the end, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; a leg of chicken is sometimes just a leg of chicken.
Musiker: You mentioned they wake up from a drug nod, and there's drug abuse and domestic abuse, and it's funny too. So how do you make those elements of tragedy and comedy work together?
Solis: I don't know. Honestly, I don't think of it as funny, (laughing), until I see it, and then I go, ooohhh. You know what, that works.
Solis and I talked in the lobby area of the Magic Theater, where there's a giant map of the route his lead characters, Vera and Mike, follow from El Paso, Texas to San Francisco, similar to the route that Solis and his wife took in 1989 when they moved here.
Sean San Jose, a veteran of many Solis plays, is Mike; Sarah Jane Hayon plays Vera.
Solis: And all they think about is running away... and all they think about is running to the next small town, where they live and be at peace, but the past keeps catching up.
They want to live in San Francisco, but because of economic circumstances they can't live in San Francisco, they can't. So they end up in Daly City.
Cyrus: So who is Cristina?
Solis: Cristina is the child. She's the baby that they're looking for. This play is about naming. The title is Se Llama Cristina, which means her name is Cristina. which is about christening. And naming the baby makes it real.
Octavio Solis' new play Se Llama Cristina. It opens Wednesday night at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. The production is part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere with upcoming productions at Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas, TX and The Theatre@Boston Court in Pasadena, CA.