A&E  

An Evening With Culture Clash

Culture and identity, politics and humor in new play, Chavez Ravine

By Carlos San Miguel
Published on LatinoLA: June 5, 2003


An Evening With Culture Clash


Culture Clash is back on stage in L.A. and better than ever. Their new play, Chavez Ravine at the Mark Taper Forum, continues their ?docu-theater? style of telling the stories of particular cities and this time the focus is finally on Los Angeles and the history of Chavez Ravine and the creation of Dodger?s Stadium.

Beginning the celebration of their 19th year together, and considered the most successful theater troupe in the country, Ric Salinas, Richard Montoya and Herbert Siguenza have consistently created a series of plays over the last two decades that capture a sense of time, Latina/o and Chicana/o culture and identity, politics, humor and drama are interwoven, all at the same time, and Chavez Ravine is no different.

Long time fans of the guys will love the show for many different reasons, including the addition of a live band led by former Oingo Boingo member, John Avila and also the inclusion of female performer, Eileen Galindo, who steps up to the plate and hits a homerun of a performance as she is fully integrated into the entirety of the show and truly helps give the story a female voice and a new presence to a Culture Clash play.

But of course, this is Culture Clash, so Richard, Ric and Herbert (and Eileen) play a plethora of characters, with each inspired performance generating a healthy dose of laughter, especially Richard?s ?Dodger Dog Girl? and his entrance in Act 2 where he ?descends? onto the stage unlike he?s ever done before. Go see the show, you?ll see. It?s hilarious, and Richard?s love of breaking the ?fourth wall? makes it that much funnier.

For those who may be new to seeing a Culture Clash play, this show would be a great introduction since there is a character Herbert plays, a Pachuco resident of Chavez Ravine, that helps guide the audience in understanding the story and keeping track of what?s going on. But regardless of this character, the story and scenes are clear and the performances flawless, with each character distinct from the next. The character of Yuri, a Russian sheepherder living amongst the mostly Mexican-community of Chavez Ravine, draws special applause when he utters Emiliano Zapata?s prophetic words, ?It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,? a recurring notion in much of Culture Clash?s work, posted on their website.

Telling the complicated history of Chavez Ravine and how the Dodger?s first came to Los Angeles from New York could be a daunting task, but Culture Clash has done an admirable job portraying the displaced Mexican community who lived in the area and the struggles, promises and heartbreak they went through as their homes and land were stolen from them for pitiful financial compensations while the power brokers who controlled the city from behind the scenes benefited from the eventual creation of Dodger?s Stadium.

Over the years Culture Clash have become not only superb performers but also masterful playwrights, with each new work showing something more meaningful behind the jokes, as it so directly relates to the current political and social climate. the McCarthy-style hearings of Frank Wilkinson of the City Housing Authority, eerily echo the mentality of the pro-war and pro-Bush people of today and their ?either you?re with us or you?re against us? stance. But the classic humor of Culture Clash is present throughout the entire show as well and the part where Herbert and Ric recreate Abbott and Costello?s timeless ?Who?s on First? is superb as they don?t miss a note and when they kick into overdrive, switching from English to Spanish, it is one of the funniest moments in the play.

If you go in not knowing anything about the history of Chavez Ravine or how baseball came to the Los Angeles, this play opens several doors of information, all the while telling a heartbreaking story of a struggling community of people of color and greedy millionaires (another topic that seems to be reminiscent of any era in American history, especially for the Latina/o & Chicana/o community).

For the historians in the audience, they will notice slight discrepancies in the timeline of events or certain alterations, but this is acknowledged and explained in the program (which by the way is a fun read when you get to the Culture Clash Glossary of Terms, always a staple of any CC play where they translate some of the dialogue in the show, like describing Fernando Valenzuela as ?the Shaq of his era!? or nopales as ?cactus - great with eggs or cornflakes?).

In this review I don?t go into the complete recount of the play and all its characters, because it?s better to be seen and not explained in a review. Theater is meant to be experienced live and this show is selling out quick, so call the theater ASAP to buy your tickets now or if necessary you can always go last minute and try to get a RUSH ticket (for $10 or so) if they?re available, which there usually are few, just get there at early.

On Tuesday June 17th the Mark Taper Forum will be having a ?Vecinos Night? and a special Q & A session with Culture Clash and a chance to meet them after the play. For tickets or more information about the show (including a Deaf Audience Experience performance on June 21st) go to the Taper?s website at: http://www.taperahmanson.com and and if you want to wish Happy Birthday to these ambassadors of comedy and Latina/o and Chicana/o culture
go to their website, http://www.cultureclash.com. (CC was born in San Francisco?s
Mission District on May 5, 1984).

And while you?re at it, send an email to the Mark Taper Forum and tell them you would like to see Latina/o & Chicana/o plays on the mainstage of the Taper every single year.

Culture Clash?s first book of plays, Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy is now in it?s 3rd printing and available at bookstores like Espresso Mi Cultura, Barnes and Noble, etc. and from their website (where you can also buy copies of their play Bowl of Beings on video, hats, t-shirts, etc.) Culture Clash will soon be having their second book of plays published and available, so watch out for it at bookstores or on the web.

?Que Viva El Teatro!

Chavez Ravine will run at the Mark Taper Forum in downtown L.A. Tuesday
through Sunday until July 6th. Ticket prices vary. Check the website for more information go to http://www.taperahmanson.com




About Carlos San Miguel:
Carlos San Miguel is a writer, actor and director living in Los Angeles. He has written for the Los Angeles Times website & other publications, including most recently the Urban Film Journal. He can be reached at latinactor@aol.com




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