San Francisco Foghorn
May 6, 2004
Refugee, Assassin, USF Student, Star!
Rory Brown, Staff Writer
Silvian Centiu approaches life a little differently than your average Silicon Valley entrepreneur. And that makes sense considering he's lived a lot differently than most Bay Area businessmen. Centiu - a director at Oracle Corporation (and USF alum) - narrates the events that led him from the thick of a Romanian revolution to the heart of the technology boom in his presentation of "A Transylvanian in Silicon Valley."
Centiu's adventures range from trekking across Europe as a refugee to learning how to speak English from used car salesmen, and he sets out to prove that these adventures are worth hearing. "Valley" (also written by Centiu,) isn't just an interesting story, but a genuine, charming, and hilarious account of a life with more than its fair share of obstacles.
Slowly pacing back and forth, Centiu warms the audience to his nonchalant sense of humor and Romanian accent with several jokes describing the conditions of communist Romania. "The apartments were so cold, people on the first floor had to keep their windows shut to keep people walking by from catching cold." Centiu said, chuckling to himself.
His jokes, like his middle-aged stature, gray curly hair, and black shirt and slacks are far from extraordinary. But that's what makes Centiu so unique his performance so refreshing. He has faced economic, geographical, political, and lingual barriers - obstacles he did not immediately overcome - but he views both his defeats and eventual victories as simple happenings in his life. At the very least, each setback gives Centiu one more thing to joke about, and one more story to share with his audience.
In 1988, at age 24, Centiu was involved with an anti-communist group of "freedom fighters" who attempted to rally the Romanian people against dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In a plot to assassinate Ceausescu, Centiu constructed the remote for the explosive intended to kill Romania's leader at an airport. After the plot was uncovered, Centiu and his band were forced to flee to the mountains. What does Centiu have to say about the ordeal? He simply shrugs his shoulders, "Hey, it's not everyday you get to kill a dictator," he said.
Along with being an outlaw, Centiu joked about the following places life's adventures took him. He recalled how he was shot at fleeing across the Romanian border, into the forest of Serbia. After a detailed account of the bullets whistling through his hair, he joked, "Funny how that works. Escaping Romania to go to Serbia."
After finally making his way to Vienna, Austria, Centiu had escaped the clutches of the Iron Curtain, and wanted to travel to America. Remembering the disappointment and discouragement of hearing he needed a Visa to enter the country legally, Centiu threw his hands in the air and said, "What do you mean legally? Columbus didn't have a visa either!"
Although he didn't stumble over his script, and he engaged his audience through his voice and gesticulations, Centiu isn't an actor. He's been a militant, a refugee, a computer programmer, and a USF student, but he has never been (and maybe never will be) an actor. Regardless of the situation he's been thrown into (or thrown himself into), Centiu has made the best of it by being himself. The stage is no exception.
Although the audience doesn't actively participate in "Valley" Centiu's storytelling invites the audience to feel the thoughts and feelings he has experienced throughout his life. His description of atrocious acts by Romanian soldiers toward defenseless women makes you squirm; his lesson in the similar phonetics of Romanian phrases and English profanity makes you imagine awkward moments in the workplace; his unwavering efforts to learn English from department store clerks and make you admire his ingenuity.
"Valley" is really more of a conversation than a performance. Centiu tells his stories with the excitement and passion of a camp counselor around a campfire, smiling at his audience's reaction and subtly laughing at his own jokes. He continues to see the humor in his experiences, which keeps his accounts enthusiastic and fresh. In the reception following opening night, Centiu admitted he wished he had more time to perfect his performance. "I had three parts in this production," he said. "I produced, I wrote the script, and I performed it. Let's just say the first two parts took longer than expected."
As long as "Valley" continues to be a journey led by a genuine Centiu, no practice is needed.