KPBS AIRDATE: May 3, 2002
Culture Clash captures America, one critical city at a time. And of course, there IS a culture clash in America — rich vs. poor, old vs. young, white vs. black, gay vs. straight, Latino vs. Anglo, immigrant vs. native-born, even immigrant vs. immigrant. They’re all here.
In this pastiche of past pieces, Culture Clash is serving up their own slice of the American pie — with a dash of chili flavor.
They’ve got a little cottage industry going. They pick a city — Miami, L.A., D.C., San Diego, San Francisco — some of our multicultural centers — and they conduct hundreds of interviews, to capture the diversity of local people and issues, which are, if the boys are on target, the issues of the whole nation. Then, they recycle parts of these pieces, mixing and matching them into a Best of… revue, spicing it up with a little non-city-specific social commentary. And voila! “Culture Clash Anthology,” which came to San Diego in 2000, and now, “Culture Clash in AmeriCCa.”
But it’s not all old news. None of their early satire loses its bite, since the cultural climate hasn’t changed in our country. But they try to stay topical; they make brief mention of Enron and dastardly priests. But amid all the laughs and one-liners, the cross-cultural chicanery and Chicano sensibility, there is one unforgettably poignant moment — Richard Montoya’s poem in response to 9/11.
In fact, this seems to be a showcase for the prodigious talent and creativity of Montoya. Though each guy gets his brilliant moment in the sun, Montoya really shines in this presentation. I’ve seen Ric Salinas do his hilarious dance routine two or three times already — how to tell Latinos apart — by how they salsa; it never fails to amuse. And he’s great as the San Francisco Latino low-rider. That cue-ball chameleon, Herbert Siguenza, is heart-breaking as the Haitian and Ugandan immigrants, uproarious as the Cuban transvestite and touching as the wheelchair-bound homeless Vietnam vet. But it’s Montoya who spans the full range of emotion and ethos. He’s sidesplitting as Charlie Cinnamon, the Jewish ‘hondler‘ from New York, transplanted to Miami. And he’s spot-on as a San Diego surf dude and an Asian drag-car racer. But it’s his poetry that ties the whole evening together, takes us to a deeper place and ultimately stays with and haunts us.
“I’m no longer a playwright,” he wrote six days after the attack on America. “I’m now a war correspondent.” He asks the crucial question whose multiple answers run through the evening’s thought-provoking entertainment: “What IS an American?”
Maybe no one can say. But Culture Clash’s actions speak louder than any words.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc