Culture Clash are at it again, this time mightier than ever. Never seen them? The three talented thinkers that make up CC – Richard Montoya, Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas – have built a strong reputation for themselves over the years (since 1984, actually) for their insightful and humorous takes on how Chicanos/Latinos have fared in Anglo America. Such shows in the past as Chavez Ravine, Water & Power, Palestine, New Mexico, A Bowl of Beings, Zorro in Hell, etc, have shown their collective power.
Now, in the Los Angeles debut of the latest success, “American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose,” the themes of their previous work come to fruition in a goofy, historically-accurate (if skewed), examination of brown-skin immigration, along with the collective rights-abuse of other minorities (African-American, Asian-American, and a fleeting glance at GLBT-Americans.
The show manages to be both low-brow (puns galore) and highbrow (quips based on contemporary political figures, plus wit to die for). Juan José, a Mexican national (René Millán), wants to come to America and become a citizen. He meets up with some Mormon missionaries (David Kelly and Daisuke Tsuji) and, somehow – don’t ask how – is transported back and forth in American history, meeting such luminaries as Dr. Benjamin Franklin , Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea (whom JJ mis-pronounces as “Saka-chiwawa” – told ya it was low-brow), Teddy Roosevelt, the signing of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Manzanar Concentration Camp, the 1918-20 Spanish Flu (Kimberly Scott, Rodney Gardiner and Herbert Siguenza) Harry Bridges of the Dockworker’s Union, etc. Great history lesson, as the facts are straight; just the execution is deliciously skewed.
Under Jo Bonny’s energetic direction (and as co-creator), the nine-member, multi-cultural and -racial cast have enormous fun (especially during Ken Roht’s crazy-ass choreography) with their broad characterizations. America has certainly had a dreadful history on race-relations (on-going still, as the play points out), so those who wish only for pastel-gouaches that color our fear of The Other, this is not your show. For those who actually know a thing or two about their own history, it’s a safe, silly and valuable reinforcement of the virtues of acceptance and tolerance – lessons we can actually never have enough of.
Neil Pael’s visually-stimulating scenic design, ESosa’s elaborate costume design, coupled with David Weiner’s lighting and Darron L. West’s sound designs, all contribute to what is a wonderfully professional, witty and informative evening. Go see it, now!
AMERICAN NIGHT: The Ballad of Juan Jose plays at the CTG Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232, until April 1st, 2012. Tickets: 213.628.2772 or at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.