Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
February 17, 2012
It’s a good week to get giddy. Local theaters are going for the gut – via the belly-laugh. You can have your comedy served up musically, or in Shakespearean or Chicano style.
The newest comic entry is the latest picante confection whipped up by Culture Clash, those Chicano political funnymen. Native San Diegan Richard Montoya wrote “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” and he performs in it, too, along with fellow Clasher, the hilarious chameleon Herbert Siguenza who, during the 100-minute historical fantasy, appears as Teddy Roosevelt, a border cop, a long-haired hippie, Sumo wrestler and Neil Diamante, the Mexicanized pop singer, who ends the evening with a Spanish-inflected “Coming to America.”
Like most of Culture Clash’s creations, it’s all about identity, community and the immigrant experience.
While cramming for his citizenship exam, young Mexican Juan José falls asleep over his flashcards, and seminal figures from America’s past appear to him in wildly distorted form, revealing the good, the bad and the ugly of our history – the awful chapters, like the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that annexed wide swaths of Mexico, and the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar . But there are also visitations from unsung heroes. The piece uses local references and timely issues to underscore the hypocrisies and contradictions of our country, but at heart, it’s a patriotic play. Like the rest of us, Juan José just wants a better life for his family.
At the La Jolla Playhouse, the projections are excellent, the costumes riotous, the 9-member ensemble superb. Touching moments are mixed in with the mayhem, which veers between puerile and thought-provoking. In the tradition of Culture Clash, the play has a lot to say about America, the not-always-beautiful.
The seamy side of New York is the focus of the great American musical “Guys and Dolls,” featuring Frank Loesser’s spectacular score and one of musical theater’s funniest books, by the peerless Abe Burrows. Lamb’s Players Theatre is doing it proud, with a lively production, expertly sung, choreographed and danced. The band is terrific, the costumes colorful – except the supposedly sexy Hot Box girls are dressed so conservatively, they look downright frumpy. But everything else sings and zings. An exceedingly fun night of theater.
And ‘fun’ is the watchword at New Village Arts, with its wild-and-crazy, 1950s update of “A Comedy of Errors.” The TV-studio setup doesn’t work consistently, but it gives an excuse for wacky references to “I Love Lucy,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Dr. Strangelove.” Justin Lang makes an auspicious directing debut, and his cast is a hoot, with standout funny-work from Amanda Sitton , Max Macke and Manny Fernandes.
Outside, there may be a climatic and economic chill in the air, but in theaters, it’s mirthful, tuneful and gleefully, tastelessly political.
“American Night: The Ballad of Juan José” runs through February 26 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
“A Comedy of Errors” continues through March 4 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
“Guys and Dolls” has been extended through April 1 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
©2012 PAT LAUNER