Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

Waiting for Next
City Lights Theater Company
Review by Eddie Reynolds

Max Tachis and Wes Gabrillo
Photo by Christian Pizzirani
Jeffrey Lo's Waiting for Next is nothing short of a heartwarming love story about friendship, a story full of charm and fun that's quite capable of drawing an occasional tear through the smiles. Much of the inherent goodness of the play's world premiere at City Lights Theater Company comes from the fact that the playwright and the play's two actors are themselves real-life buddies who often hang together watching a movie and celebrate each other's life events. They have worked together on this play's birthing process for several years. Add to that, the playwright and director are also long-time friends and colleagues, going back at least a dozen years. It is no wonder that there is a palpable aura of genuine liking and even of brotherly love that permeates every minute of this terrifically enjoyable evening of live theatre. Waiting for Next is a tribute to the power and joy of having a special pal in life that is written, directed, and acted by real-life pals.

We first meet Marcus and Frank when they are twelve and waiting for rides home after a day at middle school. It takes little stretch of our imagination to believe adult actors Max Tachis (Marcus) and Wes Gabrillo (Frank) are in fact on the tricky cusp of becoming teens. They teeter between acting cool and being blasé as they first meet, with a lot of one-word responses to one-word questions. Sitting on the curb, Frank hugs himself in a protective stance while eyeing Marcus with a mixture of curiosity and dubiousness. Marcus is a bundle of hyped-up energy, wildly swinging his legs one moment and hanging upside down the next. Frank speaks with some hesitation and an air of not-sure-we-should-talk, while Max's rapid-fire chatter is like a vocal rollercoaster of up-and-down pitches that can suddenly erupt almost without cause into a laughter that crackles with silly sounds only a kid can make.

Frank finally emerges from his self-made cocoon as he rises to rant about how he is once again waiting for a father who always seems to forget him–becoming louder and more upset with each repeated "again." Suddenly, a bond between the two is struck as they come to their first agreement: "Grown-ups suck."

Now the floodgates open, and the two boys babble about "dumb" school assignments, about why Frank at first thinks Filipino American Marcus cannot really be American, and about how crazy to Frank (and maybe even cool) it is that Marcus eats a dish at home made from pig's blood. When Marcus rather sheepishly says, "Thanks for making the wait suck less," the two try to shake on it; but shaking hands is something these twelve-year-olds have evidently never done. After a couple of awkward-to-them-but-hilarious-to-us attempts, the two make up their own set of high-fives with jazzed-up moves and twists. A friendship is born.

That initial chance meeting in 1999 is followed by a series of periodic glimpses through the years as we witness the two boys dress for senior prom and then go separate ways after high school while staying in touch when it counts most. On that first afternoon, their shared, "dumb" school project is to write about "What is your life going to be in 30 years?" Like any twelve-year-olds, little could they predict what is to come in life's highs and the lows, the ways they will hurt and be hurt, or the times they will feel betrayed by the other and the times one will save the other from sure-fire failure.

As twelve-year-olds, they cannot wait to be an adults when "we don't have to wait for anyone." Marcus proclaims, "It must be so easy to be a grown-up." He and Frank will have much to learn about how easy it rarely is. Their discoveries are, for us, a multi-stop trip through time, speaking volumes about our own lives: who has always been there for us through thick and thin; what once-silly moments are now the memories we cherish the most; what dreams burst for us; and what new and even better ones suddenly appeared like miracles.

As more than once implied thus far, both Wes Gabrillo and Max Tachis excel in their roles as Frank and Marcus. We watch as they age and mature bit by bit in every possible dimension–from physical attributes and demeanor to their voices and speaking patterns. Each faces unexpected losses with reactions and emotions that seem as if the events are happening before us for the first time, right now. We can see the relationship change, and not always for the momentary better; yet, when push comes to shove for either party, it is clear that the roots established on the curb outside José Rizal Middle School are in fact deep and forever. In the words of a critic's review, it is impossible to describe what is so clear that these two characters–and in fact, these two actors–really feel about each other as friends. That feeling must be felt in person to understand the true depth Wes Gabrillo and Max Tachis bring to their parts as Frank and Marcus.

Beyond the well-honed script and the face validity of the actors' friendship, the direction of Leslie Martinson and the creative efforts of the production team are major reasons for such an enjoyable, meaningful, and visually engrossing evening. Scenes literally dance from one to the next with spark and a bit of hilarity when the times are good; scenes emerge and fade with dignity when life takes a turn for the not so good. All seems real and of the moment through astute direction where even wildly funny moments are never too over-the-top; sad moments are allowed time to sink it with appropriate pauses for silence; and eruptions of anger between life-long friends are regrettable but understandable.

Ron Gasparinetti's scenic design is a set of colorful frames that flexibly becomes walls for a variety of settings and also becomes a palette for the scene-enhancing lighting and projections of Spenser Matubang. Particularly special is the manner in which the theme of friendship is highlighted through family-and-friend projected photos of people associated with City Lights–staff, actors, audience–in events matching those of an accompanying scene like a graduation, wedding, or arrival of a first child. Melissa Sanchez's costumes sometimes become a show unto themselves as Marcus and Frank change them as part of a scene transition, doing so in a choreographed sequence that is stomping, jumping, and twisty-turvy in nature (made all the better and possible by the music and boom-boom sound designed by George Psarras as part of his many, aural contributions throughout the evening).

Frank and Marcus at twelve are impatiently waiting for parents and are also anxious to move on to the next period of their lives. It takes many years and a number of disappointments, but together they discover–and remind all of us–that life is not about waiting for next. Life is about taking full advantage of today, milking fleeting moments while they last, and then also making sure your closest buddy is able to do the same.

Waiting for Next runs through June 19, 2022, at City Lights Theater Company, 529 South Second Street, San Jose CA. Streamed performances will also be available in the near future; dates and tickets for linkages will be announced soon on the same website. For tickets and information, please visit