May 20, 2004
Silvian Centiu's one-man show makes great theater
by James Martin
Storytelling. Why is it so difficult these days? Are there no real heroes left? It seems the art of weaving reality and the hero's quest into a good story has been turned on its head by television studios, whose collective version of the cosmos is invariably populated by buff dingbats doing dirty deeds on other buff dingbats until only one is left standing to collect fame and fortune by default; natural selection as demolition derby--or perhaps a proper reflection of our political times.
Enter Silvian Centiu and his one man show, A Transylvanian in Silicon Valley, currently playing at the Actors Theatre of San Francisco downtown on Sutter Street. When the lights come up you find yourself looking at a dimly lit, spartan stage with Centiu in the middle of it. First he massages you with a smattering of Romanian black humor and then, suddenly you're in a cornfield trying to duck bullets from Romanian border guards who've happened to notice you've left the country after Centiu's plan to assassinate Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu gets all bollixed up.
Eventually you realize you're immersed in a story so compelling you begin to believe this Transylvanian Centiu character could suck the very life blood out of reality TV all by himself if he wanted, at least until June 19th, when A Transylvanian in Silicon Valley is scheduled to end its run.
His epic journey takes Centiu from his native Romania through Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, until he meets up with the bureaucratic labyrinth of Austrian refuge justice, where our hero fashions a new life out of the intense desire to learn and clever handling of difficult situations. Well, that and a little help from a careful reading of the Geneva Convention to a reticent desk clerk. (Who, these days, would have thought of that quaint anachronism to save his socks?)
Centiu, grabbing a one-time offer to come to the US, learns English by engaging used car salesmen and hapless defendants awaiting trial to talk to him at length and is eventually pushed toward the land of good, cheap, education. That would mean California. The old California. (Did we do the anachronism thing already?) But it's the journey that counts, and this one is full of all the things you expect of a hero: a quest for knowledge, a sense of humor and fairness, and the craft involved in allowing the audience to see the world through the eyes of someone who's gone through the worst of it and not only survived but prospered.
The crowd on a recent Friday night was small, but the reception of A Transylvanian in Silicon Valley was anything but muted. "Wow, that was really good," was heard repeatedly amidst the enthousiastic applause.
See A Transylvanian in Silicon Valley. It's a rollicking 70 minutes you won't soon forget.