Culture Clash’s American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose–The Review

  • 03/23/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks

By John Farrell

For nearly 28 years now, since they were founded on Cinco de Mayo in San Francisco’s Mission District, the three members of Culture Clash, Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza, have been delighting audiences with their vivid, iconoclastic and very funny takes on everything from the Los Angeles Dodgers (see Chavez Ravine) to the problems of L.A.’s drinking water (Water and Power.) They are still revolutionary, but now they are also a part of the cultural mainstream.

American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose is their latest look at things American, with more than a hint of Latino influence. Written by Montoya and developed by Culture Clash and Richard Bonney, the story is as funny as everything they do, and just as topical. It tells, in one amazing dream-filled night, of the journey of Juan Jose who left his family in Mexico to come to the United States and become a citizen. In that dream everyone from President Polk to Teddy Roosevelt to Harry Bridges to Jesus Christ has a part as Juan Jose travels through American history and Mexican history to his goal.

Juan Jose is Rene Millan, (cq: accents over the second “E” in Rene and over the “A” in Millian if you can handle that), who has to take his citizenship test the next morning and is cramming himself full of facts. Two Mormon missionaries help him on his trip, which goes from the Halls of Montezuma to Teddy Roosevelt, hunting bears, to Bridges and to the Manzanar concentration camp where he befriends the Japanese forcibly relocated there. Throughout his dream his wife (Stephanie Beatriz) shows up in his dreams, as Sacajawea, as herself, and as others in the great collection of comic and sort-of-serious characters in the play.

Montoya, who wrote the play, appears as several characters, notably Juan Jose’s great-grandfather, and Siguenza, a second Culture Clash member, is Neil Diamante and several other characters. Indeed, only Juan Jose plays a single character in the piece, which also includes Rodney Gardiner, David Kelley (as a very Australian Harry Bridges and others,) Terri McMahon, Kimberley Scott, and Daisuke Tsuji.

The play is about a serious subject, but it’s a laugh-filled piece from beginning to end, as Juan Jose, who is a bit of an innocent, is led along by everyone from the black woman who cures his great-grandfather (as a baby) to the men who make him personally sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ceding much of Mexico to the U.S. There are more historical references than you’ll catch in one sitting, and so many characters that you’ll remember them more by their costumes than by their personalities. But because everyone is having such a good time trashing the mistakes of the last 200 years of American history, you won’t mind.

American Night is at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, and downtown Culver City now has a thriving night life. You’ll find a local restaurant and convenient parking and have a great time with American’s premier Chicano performance group.

Tickets are $20-$50. Performances are Friday, March 23 at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 24 at 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday, March 25 at 1 and 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 27 at 8 p.m., Wednesday, March 28 at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 29 at 8 p.m., Friday, March 30 at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 31 at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 1 at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Details: (213) 628-2772,
Venue: Kirk Douglas Theatre
Location: 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City

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