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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Don De Lillo's Valparaiso,
an Interesting Production


The Actor's Theatre of San Francisco is one of our better regional companies, an actor's theater for serious theater-goers. They are presenting the West Coast premier of Don DeLillo’s Valparaiso. Don DeLillo is better known as a novelist, particularly for his book, Libra, which was made into a play at Steppenwolf in Chicago.

Valparaiso had its world premier at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. In January 1999 the Steppenwolf company did a production of this play in February 2000. This is only the third time that the play has been produced.

Valparaiso centers on Michael Majestki, an average businessman who finds himself hounded by reporters and talk show hosts after a series of uncanny mix ups have him flying to Valparaiso, Indiana, but arriving in Valparaiso, Florida and eventually, Valparaiso, Chile.

Even more unexpected is the media onslaught that follows. Majeski finds himself pursued by every kind of interviewer and the object of fascination for the American audience as a "genuine survivor." As his fame grows, Michael's personal life begins to erode. He and his wife Livia struggle to keep their marriage and their lives intact despite the growing intensity of the media spotlight. Ultimately, Majeski must choose between his sanity and his celebrity.

This journey has a more profound meaning for Michael. "The man is making the most modern journey possible, witnessed by millions, into the secret places of identity and transcendence." (So says the playwright!) Michael says in the play, "Some stranger had crept inside, like surreptitiously, to eat my airline food. Or someone has been superimposed on me, a person with my outline and shoe size but slyly and fundamentally different. Who am I?"

The actors are all admirable in conveying DeLillo's difficult script. Christian Phillips, playing Michael Majeski, dominates the play and skillfully captures the initial confusion of the character. Although Rachel Klyce has little to do as Livia in the first act, she comes into her own during the second act television interview, a sterling performance. Catherine Castellanos as Delfina is a perfect Mother figure and Drew McAuliffe as Teddy is marvelous as the sprightly second and reminds me of "second men" on some current talk shows.

Classified as avant guard or a word play, Valparaiso is not in the league of Ionesco, Stoppard and Albee. Mr. DeLillo is a better novelist then a playwright. He uses Pinter-like dialogue throughout the production, with ambiguous exchanges between characters. He also uses repetitions of various key phrases in a variety of contexts. The play itself is of more intellectual interest than dramatic credibility.

If you are interested in words and not a light hearted comedy, this is a production to see. Valparaiso plays on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through April 21 at the Actor’s Theatre 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $25 General Admission and are available by calling 296-9179, or visiting Actor's Theatre of San Francisco



Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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