If you haven’t yet heard of Culture Clash, now is your chance. The Latino/Chicano playwright/performer trio has been banging the drum of southwestern multicultural clashes, while striving to bring some much needed humor and humanity to the serious topics involved, since 1984. But if this is your first encounter with them, as it was mine, ready yourself to be impressed.
By Melanie Hooks
The sharp-witted, sharp-tongued Herbert Sigüenza, Richard Montoya, and Ric Salinas first got together for what they thought would be a couple of weekends of shows, and thirty years later are still bringing their unique blend of personal stories and pathos to the political conversation. Their latest work, “Bordertown Now,” is playing to full houses at the Pasadena Playhouse, who commissioned this update of a show first conceived two decades ago. Their unique format is designed around interviews the group themselves conduct with people on all sides, including on top, of the U.S.-Mexico border. The play showcases the trio as well as guest Sabina Zúñiga Varela, an accomplished actor and theater founder/director in her own right, as they recreate the characters and their stories.
The show works as a series of standalone vignettes, but also as a cohesive commentary on the dehumanization of the people whose lives are caught up in a legal battle far beyond their individual control. Montoya, when interviewed in 2009 by Madeleine Brand for NPR’s All Things Considered program, said his goal is for the group’s work to be challenging but open to all audiences. “On a good night, good theater can still be a town hall…when a well-heeled Anglo crowd in Orange County is on their feet at the end of the night, we’re not singing to the choir.” One might substitute ‘Pasadena’ in that sentence and come away with the core intention of this multicultural show’s placement at the Playhouse. And as the political winds shift daily around immigration, kudos must be given to its management for choosing to place this work front and center of an audience not necessarily familiar with its characters’ stories.
This is the show that will bring you those faces. Tell those stories you’re reading and wondering about. Montoya and company must have been pleased with the recent Sunday evening’s standing ovation he dreamed about back in 2009.
Following each show is a question and answer panel designed to bring those issues off the stage and into real lives, including that evening’s Dream Team LA, a non-profit widely known for its work with the Dream Act and DACA. Hearing the panelists’ emotional reactions to seeing their often-hidden stories come alive onstage showed the power of representation, much as female audiences reacted last year to the film “Wonder Woman” and African-Americans did to “Black Panther.” The wide success of those productions is testament that not only their core audiences were hungry for their stories, and “Bordertown Now” should receive (and appears to be receiving) the same kind of broader upswell.
Upcoming for the last two weekends are panelists as diverse as female artists San Cha and Mónica Mendoza, Councilmember Jose Huizar, KPFK broadcasters Lalo Alcaraz and Betto Arcos, and Fuller Seminary Centro Latino faculty members.
• Directed by Diane Rodriguez
• Choreographed by Paula Present
• Cast: Richard Montoya, Herbert Sigüenza, Ricardo Salinas, and Sabina Zúñiga Varela.
39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101
• Now through Sunday June 24
Wednesday – Friday evenings at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
General admission: starts at $25 (discount tickets for some dates available @ goldstar.com)
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