Monthly Archive for: ‘June, 2013’

AN UPROARIOUS PRODUCTION OF CULTURE CLASH’S “AMERICAN NIGHT: THE BALLAD OF JUAN JOSE”

An Uproarious Production of “American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose’”

<p>California Shakespeare Company is presenting Richard Montoya’s “American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose” which is  a shameful version of American history and hypocrisy Monty Python style through June 23rd at the new renovated solar-powered Bruns Amphitheater.  I saw this zany production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2010 at the intimate inside New Theatre (now called the Thomas Theatre).  This production directed by Jonathan Moscone is just as hysterical if not more so than the OSF production.

The romp developed by an Los Angeles collective fittingly called Culture Clash evokes the anarchistic comedy styling of Monty Python with a little bit of Carol Burnett show thrown in the mix.  This is the same group that brought the likewise impertinent “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” to Broadway and the San Francisco Playhouse. The fast pace 100 minute production is all accomplished with a vaudevillian twinkle by a hard-working cast of nine playing more than 80 characters.

“American Night” tells the story of Juan Jose (Sean San Jose), a Mexican ex-cop  who search for the American dream finds him anxiously exhausted from crossing the Sonoran Desert on the night before taking his citizenship exam. He experiences a phantasmagoric 90 minute fever dream in which he travels throughout American history. Juan meets a wildly drawn cast of iconic characters including Jackie Robinson (Tyee Tilghman), gun-crazy Teddy Roosevelt (Richard Ruiz), Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Harry Bridges (Dan Haitt) Abe Lincoln (Dan Haitt) , Lewis (Dan Hiatt) and Clark (Sharon Lockwood)and Sacajawea (Dena Martinez). One minute Juan is in an ugly institutional room talking with two government officials (think Spanish Inquisition) ; the next, he is in a dreamscape.

The historic episodes appropriately include the 1848 signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which turned a vast amount of Mexican-inhabited land into United States Territory.  During that scene a large Mexican woman crosses the stage with an electric buffer. There are scenes of the  1918 Spanish flu pandemic where a black nurse Viola Pettus (Margo Hall) treats Klansman (Dan Haitt) as well as Mexican immigrants, the Manzanar Japanese internment camp during World War II where Latino teenage Ralph Lazo (Dena Martinez) insist on being interned with his Japanese-American classmates.   Such scenes are juxtaposed with funny but disturbingly resonant jabs at the American self-serving political system. You really wonder why Juan wishes to relocate to America. Nerveless, rescuing his wife and infant child from the widespread violence and drug-cartel culture of his homeland remains his key motivation. There is one over the top takeoff of an Asian television show that ask Juan a series of questions about American history that goes on much too long.

Sean San Jose gives a wonderful thoughtful performance as Juan. He lends such earnestness to the central role that the production is often remarkably poignant. Brian Rivera is excellent as a Mexican revolutionary, Bob Dylan and a giant bear. Dena Martinez gives ideal performances in her many roles as does Dan Haitt splendidly morphs into his many characters. Richard Ruiz is a hoot as frenzied sumo wrestler, Teddy Roosevelt and Neil Diamond. Margo Hall is flawless as Viola Pettus as well as her other characters.  Todd Nakagawa is hilarious as the Japanese emcee of the TV show.  Sharon Lockwood and Tyee Tilghman rivet their many characters

Jonathan Moscone suavely directs this fast pace production. Martin Schnellinger many historical costumes are terrific. Erik Flatmo set and Tyler Micoleau lighting is an asset to this rapid pace production.

“American Night: The Ballet of Juan Jose” plays through June 23rd at the Bruns Amphitheatre, Shakespeare Way just past the tunnel on Route 29, Orinda, California  For tickets call 510-548-9666 or online at www.calshakes.org  Next up is “Romeo and Juliet” opening in July

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