Sean San Jose
September 4, 2009
One of the signs of a good actor is that they can hold your attention even when the play they are performing in doesn't. There are a few performers in the Bay Area that truly have this uncanny ability -- so often dubbed "presence". The San Francisco actor Sean San Jose walks among them.
San Jose, an actor of Filipino and Puerto Rican background, is most closely associated with the Intersection for the Arts organization. He's not the most versatile actor I've ever seen on stage. He's best at playing tortured heroes with hearts of gold but serious chips on their shoulders. The less even-keeled they are, the better.
In Thick Description's current production of Octavio Solis' dream-like domestic drama set in Texas El Otro, San Jose is therefore truly in his element.
The play itself is problematic. The play takes off like an early Tarantino movie, with San Jose, playing a miscreant father and husband, Guadalupe, takes his teenage daughter, Romy, and his wife's new husband, Ben, on a wild goose chase into the wilderness ostensibly to locate the whereabouts of a gift that he wants to give to his daughter. The quirky buddy-movie-cum-stage-drama plot engages us in the first half but spirals of kilter in the second. I, for one, got lost in the playwright's esoteric dream sequences. I didn't really understand what was going on in the second act or why the characters behaved the way they did.
Nevertheless, I couldn't keep my eyes of San Jose, who behaved in such a compellingly unhinged fashion throughout, that I never knew what he would do next on stage. His performance is carefully controlled yet full of off-beat energy throughout. His lightning quick changes between playing the tender father, joking around with his daughter and tearing into her viciously are the sort of thing that makes you wake up in the middle of the night wondering where your childhood has gone. He makes Solis' anti-hero full-blooded and likable, as much of as bastard as the character is.
The Bay Area is lucky to have San Jose. And I'm only waxing lyrical this morning about his acting abilities -- he is also a formidable arts activist, producer and all-round mensch.