Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Waiting for Godot and Se Llama Cristina

A Stunning Production of Samuel Beckett's classic Waiting for Godot

Mark Anderson Phillips, James Carpenter and Mark Bedard
Photo by Kevin Berne
Samuel Beckett's existential classic Waiting for Godot is held in such high praise by aficionados of avant garde theatre that theatregoers might feel intimidated by the play. Don't let the passion of professorial types deter you from visiting the Marin Theatre to see this superb revival with a brilliant cast of magnificent actors directed by Jasson Minadakis.

I am not sure how many times I have seen the Beckett classic, starting with the New York production at the John Golden Theatre in 1956 with Burt Lahr as Estragon, E.G. Marshall as Vladimir, and Kurt Kasznar as Pozzo. Since then I have seen many productions of the play, both as a one act and a two act drama. The Marin Theatre production is two acts, running two hours and ten minutes with one intermission.

Waiting for Godot was first presented in 1953, inaugurating "theatre of the absurd" as a poignant genre. It could be described as Abbott and Costello meet Munch's "The Scream." Despite the play's message on the final insignificance of existence, the director uses uncanny skill to bring out the play's humor. The drama features two everyman characters, Estragon (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Vladimir (Mark Bedard), who bicker and embrace in nonsensically outlandish and humorous antics as they wait for their appointment with the mysterious Godot.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Mark Bedard and Mark Anderson Phillips give strong comedic performances. They brilliantly squabble in the manner of an old married couple. Both have clownish walks that remind me of a Charlie Chaplin silent film. They are dressed by Maggie Whitaker in very dilapidated black suits and bowler hats. Both actors capture the tone of Beckett's humor in a more compassionate style than some of the performances I have seen.

James Carpenter, with his flourishing voice, gives a powerful performance as Pozzo, the loquacious patrician who's just passing through but stops to visit with the pair. He is terrific on his journey from arrogance to blindness. Ben Johnson, a former Ringling Brothers and Cirque du Soleil clown, is charismatic as the silent slave Lucky, his chalk white face looking a little like Boris Karloff. For five wonderful minutes he gives a fantastic gibberish speech which seems like a short, independent Beckett play in itself. Seventh grader Lucas Meyers (alternating in the role with San Rafael eighth-grader Sam Novick) is wonderful as the frightened boy sent with a message from Godot.

Liliana Duque-Pineiro's set is minimal, with a plain black background and only a bare-branched tree, a rock, and occasionally a moon. York Kennedy's lights are an asset to the drama and Chris Houston's sound adds to the enjoyment of the play. Jasson Minadakis has done a masterful job of putting his twist on the multiple possible meanings of Godot. As the show ends, you really get to know who Godot is, which is an accomplishment in itself.

Waiting for Godot plays through February 17 at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley, California. For tickets, call 415-388-5208 or visit Their next production will be Matthew Lopez' The Whipping Man, a co-production with the Virginia Stage Company.

A Raw and Real Production of Octavio Solis's Se Llama Cristina

Sarah Nina Hayon and Sean San José
Photo by Jennifer Reiley
The opening scene of the world premiere production of Octavio Solis's Se Llama Cristina is of a man and and a woman of Mexican descent in their early thirties, merely called Man and Woman, free-basing in a drug-induced, memory zapped stupor in a barren, dingy motel room. In the corner is a baby crib. In the crib is, would you believe, a chicken leg.

Solis' biting dialogue starts the play, and you are in for a roller coaster ride of in your face drama. For 90 minutes, with great direction by Loretta Greco and the beautiful rhythm of Solis' words, it is a fascinating night of realistic entertainment.

This inconceivable, multi-layered fever dream places the audience in the presence of an enigmatic young man and woman who wake up in a strange room and must piece together their past selves and associations while they construct a new future. At first they don't know who they are or what they have to do with each other. They don't know why there is a chicken leg in the crib. The couple's incarceration gives way to fragments of their past, including a frightening figure named Abel, the telephone repairman who intrudes. What with the past intertwining with the present and, yes, even the future, you get the idea that the man and woman are facing their fears about parenthood. Maybe the playwright doesn't always provide reasonable answers to this fever dream, but director Loretta Greco makes extraordinary theatrical use of them.

Se Llama Cristina can be considered Sam Shepard meets Eugene Ionesco. The drama is raw and real, there is no doubt it. All of the characters are Latino with the exception of one, but all audience members will see themselves in these characters, too.

Sean San José and Sarah Nina Hayon deliver excellent performances that feature an inconceivable range of emotions, from ferocious delivery to understated nuance, in bringing their tenacious characters to life. Rod Gnapp gives a riveting performance as the sinister Able. Karina Gutierrez in an unnamed role comes in at the end of the play to deliver an extended and hopeful monologue of the future. She is perfect for the role.

Andrew Boyce has devised an excellent detailed rundown apartment with dirty, bare walls, crumpled paper, and a crib under an ugly plaster ceiling at the center of the three-sided stage. Lighting design by Burke Brown and Alex Jaeger's costumes add to the realism of the drama.

Se Llama Christina runs through February 17 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D, 3rd floor, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822 or visit

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

- Richard Connema

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