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Making Waves

'Radio Mambo' Spares No One From the Cutting Edge of Flamboyant Comedy

July 20, 1996|JAN HERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — Culture Clash, the Latino performance troupe, has wrapped everything you ever wanted to know about Miami, and maybe more, into a colorful, snappy, entertaining package on the South Coast Repertory Second Stage.

The three angry-looking pink flamingos that serve as scenic backdrop for "Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami" reflect the double-edged, triple-barreled flamboyance of this sharply etched, 85-minute satire.

Writer-performers Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza have come up with a funny, graceful, often serious look at a city largely different from Los Angeles but transformed, in many ways not unlike Southern California, by a massive exodus of Spanish-speaking refugees from poverty and political repression south of the border.

The Cuban influence on Miami--portrayed with all its middle-class prejudice, personal tragedy and ideological bitterness--dominates the show, though by no means to the exclusion of material ranging well beyond the site-specific nature of the piece.

Along with its lampoon of Cuban exiles obsessing over Fidel Castro and Haitians who would have been glad to trade him for Duvalier, "Radio Mambo" sends up everyone from limp-wristed transvestites to Jewish businessmen, environmentalists to habitual offenders in the Dade County lockup, Cuban merchants to--of all people--a Yankee performance artist.

The humor runs the gamut from smart and understated ("Did you know that Spalding Gray is coming to town?" "New show?" "New desk, new chair.") to cutting ("Up north, they didn't have signs [Whites Only]. We knew where we couldn't go.") to graphically over-the-top.

One thing you won't find, though, are tourists. Culture Clash prefers to focus on Miami, not Miami Beach. Despite the wittiest sketch, "Art Dealer," a gay sendup with beachfront echoes of "The Birdcage," the show takes place in and around Overtown, formerly known as Colored Town, or other inner-city neighborhoods. And it deals with ordinary, if not indigenous, Miamians.

*

Some might be offended by the material, but only the humorless. A basically good-natured show, "Radio Mambo" bites on occasion ("Dead Man Walking" and "La Ambientista") but keeps the evening upbeat. It is quick-paced, lively, tightly performed and full of precisely drawn characters.

Director Roger Guenveur Smith's fluid staging is immaculate. The many transitions are smoothly on-target, each one handed off without once halting the show's forward motion. Salinas, Siguenza and Montoya are polished comic actors as well as hot dancers. They write well and move beautifully. Catch their mambo.

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* "Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami," South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Saturday, 5 and 9 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $15-$25. (714) 957-4033. Running time: 1 hours, 25 minutes. "Radio Mambo" is part of SCR's Festival Latino, which continues July 27 with "Una Noche del Teatro" and Aug. 2-3 with staged readings from the Hispanic Playwrights Project.

A South Coast Repertory Festival Latino production of a play written and performed by Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza, directed by Roger Guenveur Smith. Set design: Siguenza. Lighting design: Lonnie Alcarez. Sound design: Mark Friedman. Choreography: Lettie Ibarra. Production manager: Garth Hemphill. Stage manager: Karen Runta.

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