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Give Peace a Chance!

Comedy troupe Culture Clash and director Bill Rauch collaborate on an updated version of Aristophanes' bawdy anti-war comedy.

By Los Angeles
Bill Rauch, Amy Hill, Herbert Siquenza, John Fleck,
Richard Montoya, Ken Roht, and Ric Salinas
(© 2009 J. Paul Getty Trust)
Bill Rauch, Amy Hill, Herbert Siquenza, John Fleck,
Richard Montoya, Ken Roht, and Ric Salinas
(© 2009 J. Paul Getty Trust)
Back in the days of ancient Greece, health care sucked, the poor were screwed, and the economy was in a downward freefall. On top of that, the Peloponnesian War had been raging for 10 agonizing years. So a 27-year-old playwright named Aristophanes, well-known for his pointed, stinging satire, penned a contemptuous but ribald look at the bloody war and called it Peace.

Flash forward to 2009. Health care still sucks, the poor are still screwed, the economy still falters, and war in the Middle East seems endless. And the three-man Latino troupe called Culture Clash, who have become well-known over the past 25 years for their socially rebellious comedy, have adapted (with playwright John Glore) Peace for modern audiences, with the result to be presented from September 10 to October 3 in the Getty Villa's gorgeous outdoor amphitheatre against a backdrop of stately museums, marble statues, and wide-open Malibu sky.

The show -- which is directed by Bill Rauch and stars Culture Clash members Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siquenza, L.A. theater favorites John Fleck and Amy Hill, and a trio of on-stage mariachi musicians -- isn't the first time Culture Clash has gone back to the King of Old Comedy for theatrical inspiration. They penned a high-flying adaptation of The Birds, which played at South Coast Rep and Berkeley Rep before landing at the Getty in March 2007.

"It just seemed to be a really wonderful fit," says Montoya. "We're not huge Greek scholars, but we sure found a kinship with Aristophanes and his satire. He was really one of the bad boys, poking fun at the establishment and civilization and Plato and Socrates. There was something about that that we loved and responded to. So we found this play, that we really loved, and like The Birds, it's a very simple idea: A farmer has the audacity to commandeer a dung beetle and fly up to Mount Olympus and confront Zeus. We just thought that was so hilarious and Marx Brothers-like! "

The Aristophanes play is gloriously tasteless," adds Rauch, who took a break from his duties helming the famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival to direct Peace. "It's kind of shocking in its bawdiness and its profanity, and it's really great to see. I say in one of my program notes that if you're shocked by anything in the play, don't worry, because Aristophanes is actually worse!"

Rauch has long been a fan of Culture's Clash work, he notes. "This project is really true to Culture Clash's name, since it's a constant clash of cultures. Certainly for us as artists, and for the audience, there's an incredible freedom in the kind of freewheeling mixture of the ancient and the modern. It will give the audience a lot of freedom to free-associate in fun ways between 2,500 years ago and today."

Although Culture Clash and Glore are credited with the adaptation, the process involved tremendous collaboration with Rauch, Fleck, and Hill, as well as the Getty. Drafts were written, different ideas tried, and finally a shape began to emerge. "We're trying to pay attention to what the story has to say," says Montoya. "War is a very successful enterprise in our world, unfortunately. But Aristophanes left us a lot of hope. Peace is obtainable and peace takes on many forms, and we're trying to explore what those forms are. In that way it seems strangely modern. Yes, we're putting in the pop references -- there's something about our grab-bag culture that is too delicious to pass up. We're trying to infuse the script with the madness that goes on all around us."


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