Juan José's history lesson is the stuff dreams are made of. One moment he's in the presence of Lewis & Clark and a bespectacled Sacagawea (he calls her “Saca-chihuahua”). The next moment he's looking down the barrel of a hapless Ku Klux Klansman's gun. Juan Jose's dreaming transports him to a Japanese internment camp, to Woodstock and into the hot seat at a TV game show that will decide whether he becomes an American citizen.
American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, now at La Jolla Playhouse, is a madcap and frequently potent lesson in U.S. history. It's a new work by Richard Montoya of the intrepid Chicano-Latino performance troupe Culture Clash, last seen at the Playhouse in 2006's uproarious Zorro in Hell. Directed by Jo Bonney and propelled by a cast that includes Culture Clash's Montoya and Hebert Siguenza and seven others, American Night bristles with commentary about the profiling of not only Mexicans but all minorities that Uncle Sam marginalizes and scrutinizes.
Juan José (Rene Millan) is a young Mexican who yearns to be a U.S. citizen to make a better life for himself, his wife and their child. The dreams that visit him the night before he takes his citizenship exam cause him to think long and hard about his imagined better life. The episodic American Night is fast-moving and rife with sight gags (a costumed bear, a sumo wrestler, Teddy Roosevelt, Ben Franklin and many more). It's a jam-packed one-act that might have been two; maybe director Bonney and Culture Clash felt an intermission would interrupt the flow. Tackling 200 years of American history is ambitious, to say the least, and some sequences are more successful, and funnier, than others. That said, when Montoya (who portrays a heavily armed revolutionary and a side-splitting Bob Dylan, among others) and Siguenza (comically brilliant as always) are on stage, everything seems to work.
The use of a back screen for words and graphics enhances this trip back in time, and a musical finale led by Siguenza as one of our hammiest pop singers is just the right capper for this American night, Juan José's and ours.
American Night: The Ballad of Juan José runs through Feb. 26 at La Jolla Playhouse. $35 and up.
A Comedy of Errors: The New Village Arts Theatre's Ensemble turns one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies into a sitcom being performed live. Previews begin Feb. 8; opens Feb. 11 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. $22-$36. newvillagearts.org
Blasted: Ion Theatre presents the late Sarah Kane's dark drama set in a dingy hotel room in Leeds. Opens Feb. 9 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $10-$29. iontheatre.com
The Blood Countess: DangerHouse Productions presents a vampire tale just in time for Valentine's Day. Opens Feb. 14 at Victory Theater in Grant Hill. $10-$13. danger%u2028house13.com
Grace and Glorie: Tom Ziegler's comedy about a backwoods woman and a hospice worker opens Broadway Theater's eighth season on Feb. 10 in Vista. $17.50. broadway%u2028vista.com
Guys and Dolls: Frank Loesser's musical, based on the stories of Damon Runyon, includes the classic songs “Luck Be a Lady,” “Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat” and the title tune. Opens Feb. 10 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. $26-$64. lambsplayers.org
In the Wake: Lisa Kron's play, set at Thanksgiving in 2000, mingles politics and relationships. Previews begin Feb. 11; opens Feb. 17 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, Downtown. $32-$51. sdrep.org
The Marvelous Wonderettes: Pop hits from the '50s dominate this girl-group jukebox musical staged by San Diego Musical Theatre. Previews Feb. 10; opens Feb. 11 at Birch North Park Theatre. $21-$52. sandiegomusicaltheatre.com
Spring Awakening: That awakening is a sexual one, experienced by young adults in a small German town. Presented by the UCSD Department of Theatre & Dance. Through Feb. 11 at Mandell Weiss Theatre, UCSD. $10-$20. theatre.ucsd.edu
Dividing the Estate: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Horton Foote's last play is a razor-tongued indictment of family greed and self-interest. Elizabeth Ashley, as Stella, matriarch of the Gordon clan, steals every scene she's in, and she's much missed when she's offstage. Through Feb. 12 at Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
A Behanding in Spokane: Cygnet Theatre presents Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's offbeat comedy about a man searching for his missing hand. The effect is rather like David Mamet encountering Quentin Tarantino in The Twilight Zone, and while the doings don't amount to anything significant, they make for lurid fun. Through Feb. 19 at the Old Town Stage. $29-$54. cygnettheatre.com
An Enemy of the People: Intrepid Shakespeare Company presents Arthur Miller's adaptation of Ibsen's play about one man fighting to spread the truth. Through Feb. 19 at the Performing Arts Center at San Dieguito Academy. $15-$25. intrepidshakespeare.com
Golden Child: Chinese Pirate Productions presents David Henry Hwang's late-'90s Tony-nominated play. Through Feb. 25 at Tenth Avenue Theatre, Downtown. $15-$25. chinesepirateproductions.com
American Night: The Ballad of Juan José: Culture Clash returns to La Jolla Playhouse with a new trans-border comedy written by the troupe's Richard Montoya. Through Feb. 26 at La Jolla Playhouse. $35 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org
Big Daddy returns: Community Actors Theatre's “play with music” celebrates the jazz, the blues and foot-stompin' in general. Through Feb. 26 at Community Actors Theatre in Oak Park. $12-$14. communityactorstheatre.com
How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying: A rousing score by Frank Loesser highlights this musical satire of corporate America. Through Feb. 26 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. $36-$63. welktheatresandiego.com
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Feb. 26 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
The Recommendation: In this promising world-premiere play by Jonathan Caren, two very different college roommates learn about life and its underside. The tension, crackling dialogue and street smarts (or lack of them, depending on the character) shine through. Through Feb. 26 at Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
Brooklyn Boy: Scripps Ranch Theatre stages Donald Margulies' comedy about searching for one's roots and one's self. Through Feb. 28 at Legler Benbough Theatre at Alliant international University in Scripps Ranch. $22-$25. scrippsranchtheatre.org
A Raisin in the Sun: The New York Times called Lorraine Hansberry's drama about a struggling family in Chicago “a play that changed American theater forever.” Through March 4 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. $20-$47. moxietheatre.com
42nd Street: A chorus girl gets her shot at stardom in this rousing Broadway musical by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Through March 4 at Coronado Playhouse. $18-$25. coronadoplayhouse.com
Shotgun Wedding Anniversary: How else can a miserable 25-year marriage end but in murder? Presented by Mystery Cafe, it's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. $59.50, including dinner. mysterycafe.net