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October 18-24, 2006

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'Viva Cristo Rey'

The gumshoe and the priest: Michael Farina (left) plays a detective in need of forgiveness from Father Miguel (Andrés Sinohui) in 'Viva Cristo Rey.'

Greene Land

Quo Vadis' 'Viva Cristo Rey' looks to Graham Greene in story of religious persecution in 1920s Mexico

By Marianne Messina


IN SPITE OF the odd fold-out chair or card table and a couple of aesthetically pleasing shadow enactments, the Quo Vadis production of Viva Cristo Rey feels more like a staged reading than a full-on production. There's no getting around the sense that the actors, almost across the board, are struggling to know their characters, even as they're playing them. In an odd way, this doesn't always work against the play itself.

Set in 1920s Mexico, when celebrating the mass could earn a death sentence as a crime against the state, this play, at its best, reaches moments of Graham Greene. A weary, compassionate eye looks on evil and sees just people being people in systems that accentuate the worst in them. "We have a job to do," says the general (Joe Vega). "It's not a good idea to get that job tangled up with morality." Michael Farnia works well with internal struggle as the detective who hunts Father Miguel (Andrés Sinohui) down, only to seek forgiveness later on. And Sinohui makes the hunted priest likable, if not charismatic. So the climactic scene between these two men is a strong one, even if the content stretches naturalism into exemplar.

In spite of its failings, this play draws import from the intricate conflicts created by playwrights Cal Gallagher and Fred Martinez when system meets individual and conscience meets ethos. The government agenda perverts language, to the point where "massacre" and "assassins" have debatable meanings—contemporary parallels, here, are not comforting. Government spies are planted in confessionals as priests, both to gather evidence for increasing arrests and to undermine the church. In these circumstances, people are separated from huge parts of themselves. And in this way, the many flat performances and the stark staging create a drab, Valium-flavored world in which characters seem sedated. How else could they live through the grief, assuring each other, "Don't worry, things'll get back to normal."


Viva Cristo Rey, a Quo Vadis production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm through Oct. 21 at the Historic Hoover Theatre, 1635 Park Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $12/$15. (408.252.3530)


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