GO SEE: American Night the Ballad of Juan Jose

The newest hit play by Richard Montoya & Culture Clash at the Kirk Douglas Theater through April 1

By Carlos San Miguel
Published on LatinoLA: March 18, 2012

GO SEE: American Night the Ballad of Juan Jose

American Night: the Ballad of Juan Jose is a fantastic show! The play premiered at the 2010 Oregon Shakespeare Festival as a huge hit (breaking records & adding performances which had never been done at OSF) and has finally arrived in L.A., with audiences flocking to see it. As expected with any Culture Clash show, opening weekend was sold out and the remaining performances are selling out of seats fast so don't delay get your tickets TODAY ASAP!

Tell a friend - this is a show you don't want to miss!

Written by Richard Montoya and developed by Culture Clash (Montoya, Herbert Siguenza & Ric Salinas) in collaboration with director Jo Bonney, this L.A. tour (produced in conjunction with the recent run at the La Jolla Playhouse) is a treat for L.A. audiences as it retains all but one of original performers.

Actor extraordinaire Ren? Mill?n, a Chicano from San Diego, leads the cast of nine actors, with Montoya & Siguenza serving as part of the ensemble, but noticeably absent is the third Clashero - Ric Salinas, who (regrettably for fans) is sitting this show out.

Mill?n does an amazing job as the character of Juan Jose, essentially being on stage for the entire performance and transitioning from acting, singing and dancing without missing a beat. It's a true pleasure and inspiration to watch such a talented Chicano relishing his chance to pursue his dream. With a performance like this he definitely deserves some attention from Hollywood and could easily transition to becoming the next Benjamin Bratt.

The story revolves around Mexican immigrant, Juan Jose, the night before he is to take his United States citizenship exam. He honorably portrays a man who audiences can sympathize with in his steadfast determination to find a better life for himself & his young pregnant wife Lydia, played by the gorgeous and equally talented Stephanie Beatriz (previously seen in the play Lydia at the Mark Taper Forum a few years ago) who along with the entire cast, accept Mill?n, in true Culture Clash style plays a dizzying array of characters, both females and males. Each actor of the ensemble delivers 100% and now having performed together for a full season in Ashland, recently in La Jolla and now Los Angeles, they're in perfect sync.

The play opens with a beautiful Mexican corrido and quickly establishes (for those unfamiliar with Culture Clash's style of carpa-inspired teatro) that this play is a balls-out comedic romp a social satire aimed at making audiences think, laugh, hopefully learn something and appreciate life from a different perspective. And yes, fan favorite "character," Kyle the Bear (who has appeared in previous Culture Clash plays, Zorro in Hell and again in Palestine, New Mexico) makes a brief but gut-busting hysterical cameo.

In traditional Culture Clash fashion this play continues to evolve the very definition of Chicano theater, as Juan Jose experiences a fever dream of history, becoming not just student, but participant. The opening scenes, while definitely funny, start off a little slow, but everything quickly picks up steam, with each scene building momentum & anticipation of what could possibly come next in this exploration of immigration, love and the melting pot that is America.

Along the wavering comedic/dramatic pseudo time-trip/history lesson, Juan Jose encounters some of American history's very notable events & characters such as the truly nation changing and contentious signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which in one agreement made a vast portion of Mexican territory into what is now the American Southwest and has ever since spurned a feeling of animosity and disdain, by some, towards an entire segment of American citizens i.e. Chicana/os. Montoya's character in this scene draws special applause when he utters the sentiments of all Chicana/os, "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!" - a recurring theme in much of Culture Clash's work.

As Juan Jose transitions from one scene to the next, he utilizes his study guide to help understand (and explain the situation for less informed audience members) the stories of such diverse times in history from Lewis and Clark being led by a teenage Sacagawea, hilariously played by Beatriz (a definite stand-out among a very strong cast), to the stark and still painful memories of the World War II Japanese internment camps, wherein a young Chicano Ralph Lazo, played by Beatriz, was willing to be interned with his friends' families, and the appearance by Jackie Robinson interacting with a young Emmett Till in a brief but touching scene.

With a series of dramatic moments throughout the play, it's definitely more of a comedy inherent with Culture Clash's biting wit and undisputed knack for improvisation & breaking the fourth wall in the middle of any scene and than instantaneously getting right back into the moment. On opening night, Herbert blurted out a line, "And give him a Brazilian wax," that had the packed audience rolling in laughter.

Over the years, Culture Clash has 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. Montoya's mocking inclusion of well-known racist Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, is an excellent example of how he always seems to have his finger on the button of hot topics, but with this play keeps equal focus on history.

Montoya commented to CulverCityPatch.com, "With regards to our multicultural appeal, the focus on American Night was to enable it to incorporate and define where various cultures intersect. It's about an African-American nurse in west Texas in 1918 healing Mexican revolutionaries and children of Klansman... through the eyes of a Mexican immigrant. This is the stuff of real importance to me, where the cultures can intersectǪeven if it means we are force-feeding the viewing audience."

"I can see the Anglo members of our audience enjoying the references that they can understand and I can see the African-American church ladies in their Sunday hats coming to the show and also enjoying seeing themselves in the play. Lastly, the Latinos come because they know that their boys in Culture Clash are going to deliver the goods but it is just amazing to have eight or nine members in the cast that is reflective of the diversity that makes up Los Angeles. We stepped away from issues such as 'how Latino am I? How Hispanic am I? How Chicano am I?' If we haven't figured that out by now...I mean I don't have any more plays in me dealing with those topicsǪ we have exhausted them all."

But if there's one thing Montoya and Culture Clash has not exhausted, it's creativity. The ever growing catalog of plays these multi-talented artists continue to produce is truly mind-boggling, Montoya's bio in the program mentions at least three new works: The River for Campo Santo in San Francisco, the Federal Jazz Project for San Diego REPertory Theatre/ Berkeley Rep and 32 Beds for South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa with such a litany of plays, he continues to establish himself as the heir apparent to August Wilson.

In May, Culture Clash will celebrate their 28th year together and are considered the most successful theater troupe in the country, Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza have consistently created an amazing body of work that capture a sense of time, Latina/o and Chicana/o culture and personal identity, politics, history, humor and drama all interwoven and American Night the Ballad of Juan Jose is no different. This play could easily be hit on Broadway.

Hats off to Director Jo Bonney and the entire production team behind this play, especially projection designer Shawn Sagady who did an amazing job with the moving images that permeate the stage and accentuate each scene in visually stunning ways. Bonney & company all definitely should be nominated for awards on this production.

Tickets are selling quick, so call get them now or if necessary you can always go last minute and try to get a RUSH ticket if they're available, just get there at least an hour early.

And if you have a moment - send an email to the Center Theater Group Artistic Director Michael Ritchie at taper_manager@ctgla.org
and tell him you would like to see Chicana/o & Latina/o & other multi-cultural plays at the Mark Taper Forum & at the Kirk Douglas Theater every single year. Maybe an entire season of multi-cultural plays? Maybe an all-Asian play at the Mark Taper Forum?

Culture Clash's third book of plays, "Oh, Wild West! -- The California Plays," was released in August 2011. Find it on Amazon or ask for it at your local book store it makes an excellent present.

?Que Viva El Teatro!


DISCOUNT TICKETS: email for info - Latinoactor@hotmail.com

Check out these links for videos on the play:
Promo video 1

Promo video 2

Interview w/ Richard Montoya & Ren? Mill?n on PBS (San Diego)


Dates: 'til Sunday, April 1st
Tues - Fri @ 8PM - Sat @ 2 & 8 PM & Sun @ 1 & 6:30 PM

Location: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 90232
Ticket Price: $20 - $45 - tickets box office: 213/ 628-2772
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Cesar Chavez Day 2012 is being celebrated throughout March and April
Sign the Petition for a National Cesar Chavez Day of Service & Learning for March 31st


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