KPBS AIRDATE: November 6, 1996
We may have just passed the Day of the Dead, but Latino theater is alive and well in San Diego. There were four dramatic events co-occurring in one week.
Our first local Latino theater company, Máscara Mágica, held a Día de Los Muertos fiesta and fund-raiser… and our newest addition, Latino Ensemble de San Diego, is winding up its high-power, premiere production, “The Last Angry Brown Hat.”
In between, we have two temporary installations — “Radio Mambo,” a welcome return visit of LA’s Chicano comedy trio, Culture Clash, and Vantage Theatre’s production of “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.”
The new San Diego theater company is true to its name: Latino Ensemble. I loved this co-production with Centro Cultural, and I can’t wait to see what the new group does next. In “The Last Angry Brown Hat,” a funny and dramatic 1993 award-winning one-act by Alfredo Ramos, four former Chicano Brown Berets reconvene in East L.A. after a 20-year hiatus. The fifth member of their group has overdosed and died, but the last two decades have been a heavy trip for all of them. Each has a riveting story to tell, and the four talented actors — Gregorio Flores, John Padilla, Victor Contreras and Marcos Martinez – – do a masterful and convincing job. There’s a bit of aimless wandering onstage, but director Mike Gomez makes the most of the play’s deliciously jolting tonal shifts. It’s a tasty slice of Latino life: a cross-section of paths taken enroute from idealism to reality.
And what do you get when those rocky paths cross the trail of Cubans, Haitians, African Americans, drag queens and New York Jews? You get Culture Clash, in Miami. If Anna Deveare Smith trisected herself, and fanned out around Florida doing her investigative/interpretive theater thing, it would in some ways resemble “Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami.” The difference is humor. Smith is a documentarian, who re-enacts what she’s heard in interviews. The three wackos of Culture Clash are, first and foremost, comedians; they imitate without mocking, but never fail to mine the humor in human behavior.
Personally, I’m a bit partial to that hilariously frenetic chameleon, Herbert Siguenza, but his partners in comic crime — Richard Montoya and Ric Salinas — are equally versatile. Together they show us the broadside and underbelly of a multicolored city in confusion and transition. Sound familiar? You’ll flinch even more when, as promised, Culture Clash takes on our own fair city. Now that will be an entertaining evening of theater.
What makes a much less entertaining evening is Ray Bradbury’s early, fanciful short story, “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.” As performed by Vantage Theatre, it’s a plodding 50 minutes, with wooden acting, leaden pacing and more blackouts than a boxing marathon. This is a whimsical tale of six young men from the barrio who find magic in a suit the color of vanilla ice cream. Prosaic when it should be poetic, this production soars only in a slo-mo barroom brawl.
But overall, for Latino drama, humor and in-jokes, it’s a great week to go to the theater. Viva la Raza!
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.