Culture Clash (Still) in America: Written and performed by Culture Clash. Directed by Lisa Peterson. Berkeley Rep: Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. (510) 647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org. February 20-April 5, 2020.
Culture Clash (Still) in America rocks with agitprop at Berkeley Rep. Rating:
From a previous review of the 2006 Berkeley Rep world premiere production of Zorro in Hell: “Agitprop theater is alive and well in the San Francisco Bay Area with Berkeley denizens often providing impetus and bodies to do the job. This time the impetus and bodies originated in San Francisco’s Mission District from a Chicano/Latino Trio (Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Sigüenza) called Culture Clash. Don’t call them “Hispanic” which, they have always insisted is a word used only for census taking. They have been performing “political satire, social commentary, stand-up comedy, performance art, spoken word and agitprop Chicano Teatro” for 20 years.” They are now in their 35th year and their performance of Culture Class (Still) in America cements and if possible improved their reputation.
The last outing in the Bay Area was American Night: The Ballad of Juan José by CalShakes in Bruhn’s Amphitheatre in 2016 after its world premier at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2010. The present world premiere production of Culture Clash (Still) in America has partially been stitched together with the help of director Lisa Petersen and includes some of the scenes from past shows.
Sex therapist Dr. Ruth (Ruth Westheimer) said “A lesson taught with humor is a lesson learned.” The rolling laughter in the audience at the Peet’s Theatre on the opening indicated that lessons were being learned big time scene after scene. Those scenes are intricately performed and mostly satirical vignettes of social injustice imbedded in our present day mores. It begins with the interrogation by members of ICE of a Mexican man who was separated from his young daughter at the border. Then with a cogent slightly humorous line all three break the fourth wall engaging with the audience. Throughout the show the trio use this device never allowing the evening to become depressing by laughing with their characters and never at them.
The trio invest the qualities of multiple ethnicities including White, Black Asian, Arabic and others. They also take on the characteristics of straight and transgender women never denigrating them. Equal weight is given to a black preacher and a Muslim in prayer.
Every scene is a quality performance but you will not have difficulty picking a favorite. One early hysterical/satiric scene of an interview of Francis (with an I) and husband Todd who earn their living from cleaning up after hurricanes. This is hysterically balanced when the smallest member of trio (Salinas?) gives a demonstration of how differently the salsa is danced by the various Latin cultures.
A locale is inserted when two Berkeley grandmothers sitting in highchairs get stoned and pass out reefers to the audience. Poor Orinda is tagged as the place where “uninteresting” and possible MAGA people live.
The staging and graphics alone are worth the price of admission. It is an evening of great agitprop performed with a humorous bent that will make you seriously consider a second visit to fully appreciate the blatant but tempered lesson to be learned through humor.
This is a must see production lasting about 90 minutes without an intermission.
CAST: Richard Montoya, Ricardo Salinas, Herbert Siguenza
PRODUCTION STAFF: Scenic Design, Christopher Acebo; Costume Design, Carolyn Mazuca; Lighting and Projection Design, Tom Ontiveros; Composer and Sound Design, Paul James Prendergast; Stage Manager, Dani Bae.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
(l to r) Richard Montoya, Herbert Siguenza, and Ricardo Salinas in Berkeley Rep’s production of Culture Clash (Still) in America, written and performed by Culture Clash, directed by Lisa Peterson.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre