Culture Clash (from left, Ricardo Salinas, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya) looks at the world through multicolored glasses.
While some people live and breathe 1960s America, others are 1960s America. Take the case of two aging flower children who'll never leave the era (attire and all) and its credo of peace, love and dope. One is apparently passing on the gene to her son. Unable to hold back tears of joy, she reports that the little scamp and some friends recently donated four bags of her pot stash to a Haitian relief effort.
Now, that's compassion.
Make no mistake: Culture Clash in AmeriCCa, the current San Diego Repertory Theatre entry, is a marvelous piece, crazy with more than 20 character sketches like these on the minority experience that colors the American landscape.
Latinos Ricardo Salinas, Herbert Siguenza and San Diego-born Richard Montoya, who founded the L.A.-based Culture Clash in 1986, premiered the AmeriCCa show and tour in 2002, culling it from interviews and refitting it as current events warrant. Eight years later, the boys are in rare form, slipping in and out of characters that have latched onto plenty more to talk about. It's odd, though, that one of those topics—the recession, which has devastated so many Americans' lives and dreams—isn't given the time of day.
Some may find the show's disjointedness distracting. One minute, we're regaled with the funny story of an itinerant, punchy Mexican who painted the spruced-up Horton Plaza garage; in the next act, we'll hear from a devout Boston Catholic who seeks forgiveness from the priest who sexually abused him and his brothers (the Bible tells him to love those who've wronged him, and he's just now getting a handle on that). But American life evolves at such a dizzying pace that personal fortunes can turn on a dime—and if the rapid-fire switches between comedy and drama are meant to reflect that, then Culture Clash has hit on some shrewd logistics.
Montoya is first-rate as Mohammad, a baffled Muslim D.C. cabbie who's shuttled everybody from senators to hookers (“sometimes at the same time”); hard to believe he's the same guy who plays a disillusioned expat while Salinas and Siguenza's characters prepare to take their citizenship oaths. His voices and mannerisms are wildly distinct and completely believable, and, like all the other stories, these are deeply nuanced and anecdotal, inviting our sympathies with the central figures.
But the huge, green-tinged American flag and Lonnie Alcaraz's spot-on lighting can't fill the gap amid the exclusion of the most visible group of all. An unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent, rampant home foreclosures, record-low housing starts and billions in gutted savings have savaged pockets of this society—the upshot is a displaced, cash-poor “new” minority. If there's any failing to this program, it's that the latest crop of America's disenfranchised, who number in the millions, is left without a hearing regardless of ethnicity.
But do see Culture Clash in AmeriCCa for its wit and its earnestness in educating us on the minority experience. We're all looking for the same United States, after all—and this show is a compassionate, friendly reminder that we've got a ways to go in our search. This review is based on the performance of Feb. 23. Culture Clash in AmeriCCa runs through March 7 at The Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown. $29-$34. www.sdrep.org. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.