Thursday, January 10, 2019

South Coast Rep’s “ Culture Clash (Still) In America”... Still Razor Sharp

For South Coast Repertory’s 55th season and 523rd production “Culture Clash” is just what the doctor ordered. After Orange County, littered with hives of ‘red leaning’ politicians and thinking (for more than the 60 years I have lived in San Diego), turned the tide to ‘blue’, in the last election cycle, I was encouraged by the overwhelming positive and vocal responses from the audience at the matinee performance I attended of the latest mind boggling up to date and razor sharp rendering of “Culture Clash (Still) in America”.

Culture Clash founders Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya have been mucking around in socio/political and cultural muddy waters for many, many years. I’m guessing it was well over thirty years ago that I saw my first ‘Culture Clash’ performance in a small, black box theatre in downtown San Diego just in back of the old then shuttered Balboa Theatre.
Herbert Siguenza and Rick Salinas
Over the years, the group has been commissioned and awarded grants to write plays for specific theatre's, as was the case with the 1998-piece “Bordertown” performed at The San Diego Repertory Theatre directed by artistic director Sam Woodhouse.

In it, 100 people from all walks of life including then mayor of San Diego Roger Hedgcock and then Sheriff Bill Kollender, along with ordinary citizens from both sides of the American/Mexico border were interviewed and real life and current events during that time frame were the targets of the group’s piece.

While San Diego itself is touched on in this current piece, the focus is in Orange County and every encampment up and down the coast where orange groves once lined the freeways.

Ricardo Salinas and Richard Montoya
In all of their works, past and present, ‘CC’ has zeroed in on satire that is set within the Chicano Community and its affect on the white culture and how it has changed the thinking also within its own community; a cause and effect reality that will be giving the group enough work for a lifetime.

Most of their stories are disguised in humor, and told with flamboyance, confidence and flair; they poke fun at the perception that if it comes from within it’s Ok to laugh. Wrong! It is, however time for some serious thinking.

Minute-by-minute political satire, social realities and cultural difference are performed with a wink and a nod: most from past reference. The skits are woven into a tapestry of what many of us may recognize and call  ‘our America’. Frankly my friends, it ‘aint pretty and it’s getting ugly by the second. 

Ricardo Salinas
No question, 'CC' has penchant for making it look easy with their fast back and fourth repartee, instant costume changes (Carolyn Mazuca), made to look easy scene changes (Christopher Acebo) with cool projections filling in the blanks (Tom Ontiveros) all coming together without a hitch thanks to Lisa Peterson’s tight staging.

If you are a follower, you will recognize many of the same characters and gigs. I reference the hysterical salsa routine by Ric Salinas showing the different ways the salsa is danced within the Latinex community. There are also new-bee’s thrown in; Melenia, the lesbian couples dog is the least subtle.

Richard Montoya in custody of ICE
Two ICE agents are introduced at the top of the show referencing to the humanitarian crisis at the border, the caravan, a youngster physically taken from her father by our own Border Patrol Agents, Tiki Torches of Charlottesville, survivors of the mass killings at the Pittsburgh Synagogue and an in depth description of sex change surgery that was almost TMI, all filling the one act now being staged in Orange County.

As an equal opportunity offender, I had to be realistic enough that if my ethnicity were to the butt of their comedy, it was in my best interest not to get huffy. The only reference I did hear was from the socially active group from Pittsburgh. 
Ricardo Salinas and Herb Siguenza
Because of the group's longevity and the fact that their writing is collaborative, each of the men knows their strengths and weaknesses giving high marks to all three without hesitation. Overall, they may see weaknesses yours truly did not. 

I hop, skip and jump to the near end of the performance played by Siguenza, as El Reverendo, that brought tears to my eyes. He’s in a wheelchair under a street light in the dregs with both the homeless and the dead under a bridge with everyone gathered around him:
Siguenza (center)
 “I said to myself I’m an American. And in that same precious instant I asked myself what is an American?
“In Heaven everything is equal. ...There are no flags in Heaven. No walls.
“The population of Heaven is young, brown, and does not speak English, I have found very few Americans there…
Everybody seems to be black, Latin, Arab, or Chinese so, I guess Heaven is like Earth…
And America was becoming more like Heaven everyday.
But I didn’t see it that way while I was alive, No. I was blinded by fear, prejudice. I guess I wasted a lifetime.”

Dylan in the background: still on the road
Heading for another joint…

It’s always a good idea to revisit the guys in Culture Clash just to get a refresher of what’s really important.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Jan. 20th
Organization: South Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 714-708-5555
Production Type: Comedy/Satire
Where: 655 Town Center Drive,
Ticket Prices: $31.00-$86.00
Venue: Julianne Argyros Stage
Photo: Jordan Kubat/SCR


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