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Theater | THEATER REVIEW

An America whose cultures clash, crash

August 20, 2004|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

In San Francisco, a transsexual Cuban immigrant dreams of marrying, moving to the suburbs and raising kids. In Washington, D.C., a Jordanian immigrant marvels at the values his American-raised children are developing. "They worship Allah and Nike," he says, half in wonder, half in shock. In San Diego, an Asian American dresses in hip-hop gear and peppers his speech with "wassups" co-opted from African American culture.

This is America as observed and portrayed by the trio of performers known as Culture Clash. For 20 years, Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza have lived up to their collective name by depicting -- with equal measures of humor and insight -- the clash and crash of cultures in the not-always-united United States. Perceptive observers of this hodgepodge nation, they have outdone themselves with the compilation of documentary-style vignettes they are performing in a brief, anniversary-celebrating run of "Culture Clash in AmeriCCa." Presented at the Assistance League Playhouse in Hollywood, the show is part tribute to openheartedness and part wake-up call as it looks at people clinging to their individuality even as they get stirred, inevitably, into the American stew.

"I will not be an apologist for my people," the Jordanian American says in the show's first moments. He is speaking about fellow Muslims, post-Sept. 11, but his statement resonates beyond that community. He recalls the customer who recently entered his cab, eyed him suspiciously and demanded to know whether he was related to Osama bin Laden. " 'For God sakes, we are all Americans,' I say. He not look convinced."

For the next 90 minutes, the three performers shift through a chameleonic array of accents, attitudes and postures as they re-create the many cultures that constitute America. Culture Clash's artistry has deepened as it has delved into documentary technique. The performers' beginnings in stand-up and sketch comedy, along with their uniquely Latino sensibilities, are never far from the surface, yet a deep empathy flows through their depictions. They can prompt a cacophony of laughter one moment and, the next, compel audience members to bite their tongues to keep from sobbing.

The individuals chronicled in "AmeriCCa" are culled from a decade's worth of residencies in various cities, where Culture Clash has interviewed locals and fashioned theater pieces from the results. The show includes material from "Radio Mambo" (Miami), "Bordertown" (San Diego/Tijuana), "Nuyorican Stories" (New York), "Mission Magic Mystery Tour" (San Francisco) and "Anthems" (Washington, D.C.).

In front of a huge American flag that is rendered, symbolically, in shades of gray, Montoya, Salinas and Siguenza become redneck whites, suburban lesbians, vivacious mixed-race couples, resonant African American ministers, attitude-dripping members of Asian American car-crew posses and more.

Some tell stories of slights and injustices. (The suburban lesbians, for instance, recall the Halloween when none of the neighbors dared to ring their doorbell.) Some espouse an embrace of other cultures while revealing an obliviousness to them. (A blond, shaggy-haired Norwegian American husband betrays a humorous lack of sensitivity to his Cuban American wife.) Yet nearly all of these individuals find ways to live together, with dignity and with hope.

A Salvadoran transplanted to Washington discovers kinship with his African American neighbors. "Oh, si, we're both ... country folk; we are both family-oriented, go to church, we work side by side; we like greasy ... food."

The Jordanian American finds encouragement in the fact that, after the 2001 terrorist attacks, a cross section of America began to show up at his mosque. "We grieve together, we pray together. This is beautiful thing. This is America to me."

And a Vietnam vet, disillusioned by what he sees going on in America, utters a gruff prayer for peace when he says: "If we could just forget about color for one ... minute there would be nothing, I mean nothing that we could not achieve of as the human race."

*

'Culture Clash in AmeriCCa'

Where: Assistance League Playhouse, 1367 N. St. Andrews Place, Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. today, Saturday and Wednesday through Aug. 28; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday and Aug. 29.

Ends: Aug. 29

Price: $18 to $30

Contact: (800) 595-4TIX or www.cultureclash.com

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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