Culture Clash Anthology
A 15-year retrospective of the work of the famed Chicano/Latino comedy troupe is a hit in L.A.
"We started out in 1984 in San Francisco as a kind of weekend lark, putting together some impromptu satire for a Cinco de Mayo celebration," recalls Siguenza. "We haven't really stopped working since."
Traveling an average of 10 months a year, the trio has performed in venues all over the country, including the Mark Taper Forum, the Los Angeles Theatre Center, South Coast Repertory, Magic Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Repertory, the Joseph Papp Public Theatre and Lincoln Center in New York, Seattle Repertory, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and numerous universities and colleges. "I guess both the good news and the bad news is that we keep running out of material," comments Montoya. "Latino culture in this country is diverse, always evolving, and there are very real concerns and inequities that must be addressed. The retrospective we are performing at LATC is drawn from our previous work; yet it contains some new pieces because we are always finding subject matter for our particular brand of satire."
Constantly breaking the theatrical "fourth wall" to include the audience in its shenanigans, Anthology is a spirited theatrical outing that underscores the trio's ability to infuse socio-political awareness of Latino life in America with hilariously adroit physicality. "We follow the same street theater, commedia dell'arte traditions that were pioneered by the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Luis Valdez's El Teatro Campesino in the 1960s," affirms Siguenza. "We make sure there is little distance between us and the audience, because they are the life force that keeps us going."
"Both of these vignettes come from our earlier work A Bowl of Beings," says Salinas. "Of course, we are constantly throwing in contemporary ad-libs to liven things up; but the scenes are pretty much intact, as they were written and performed a decade ago. It does surprise us, at times, that the work and the issues we address are as valid now as they were back then."
The second act of Anthology features excerpts from Culture Clash's more recent work, beginning with the ingeniously symbolic Bordertown vignette in which Salinas is the San Diego husband figure to Siguenza's Tijuana wife. Though he crosses over at will to have his way with her, San Diego won't allow the much put-upon Tijuana to be part of his real life. Siguenza then offers a poignant Radio Mambo monologue as a gently philosophical Haitian immigrant who sees his life in Miami as simply getting along with his neighbors but never trusting the political system. "Government is the enemy and we the people pay for it," the character utters sadly.
Radio Mambo (1995) and Bordertown (1998) are two examples of shows that were developed from taped interviews conducted by the trio in various parts of the U.S. "None of us are from Miami or San Diego," says Montoya. "Yet these are areas that are heavily populated with Latinos." Demonstratring the Culture Clash technique of taping interviews with people to harvest material for shows, Montoya recreates a comical session with a clueless Miami couple (Siguenza & Salinas) who mindlessly relate how their demolition company has reaped a fortune due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Andrew.
Concluding Anthology with excerpts from Nuyorican Stories (1999), the trio brings to life the powerful writings of such Puerto Rican poets as Miguel Pinero. To lighten the mood, Salinas offers a physically facile display of footwork as he explains that you can tell a person's ethnicity by "the way they dance salsa."