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Theater review: ‘A Weekend With Pablo Picasso’ at Los Angeles Theatre Center

April 8th, 2011 herbert Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

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Anyone expecting a politely informative docudrama from Herbert Siguenza’s one-man show “A Weekend With Pablo Picasso” is in for a shock — in the best possible way.

Granted, the piece shares some elements with other solo portraits of historical figures. Siguenza, known principally as a co-founder of the groundbreaking Latino comedy troupe Culture Clash, turns in an assured, charismatic and well researched performance as the complicated Spanish expatriate who became the most influential artist of the 20th century.

Presented by the Latino Theatre Company, Siguenza’s play finds Picasso living in France in 1957 at the height of his celebrity and facing an unexpected high-profile commission to crank out six paintings and three vases over the course of a single weekend (“Who do you think I am — Dali?” he grouses on the phone to his art dealer). Picasso has grudgingly allowed a group of art students — the audience — to stay at his home/studio while his family is away, a serviceable premise allowing Siguenza to directly engage us with jokes, stories and insights into the artistic life culled from Picasso’s interviews and writings.

Siguenza’s secret weapon, however, is his talent as a painter in his own right. A lifelong admiration for Picasso led him to create the show, and his ability to paint credibly in his hero’s style makes for a visual tour de force as the commissioned artworks come to life. Some of Siguenza’s faux Picassos are painted in real time at each performance, others created in advance but take shape through evolving rear projections in a nod to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 documentary, “The Mystery of Picasso”; Victoria Petrovich’s video montages also delve into biographical and historical events, as well as Picasso’s dreams.
Todd Salovey’s savvy, stylish staging employs Giulio Cesare Perrone’s colorful artist-studio-as-playpen set to reinforce Picasso’s passion to see the world through a child’s eyes. Shades of childish petulance also erupt in Siguenza’s mercurial performance, though his allusion to women as being either “goddesses or doormats” only hints at the artist’s capacity for reprehensible behavior. Siguenza’s play could risk showing more of his subject’s dark side, but it’s a stellar success at illuminating some formative events of Picasso’s life and drawing us into his artistic world.

-– Philip Brandes

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First time ever, OSF adds shows

September 21st, 2010 herbert Posted in Home, Schedule | No Comments »

Ashland, Ore.— Due to extraordinary demand for tickets, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has added four performances of American Night: The Ballad of Juan José. The inaugural production of American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle, written by Richard Montoya and Culture Clash, is running at 99% of capacity to date. In an unprecedented move, the Festival has added performances. The dates are:
Wednesday, September 22 8:00 pm
Wednesday, September 29 8:00 pm
Sunday, October 10 8:00 pm
Thursday, October 21 1:30 pm
Reviews of the production have been stellar, and excellent word of mouth has made tickets difficult to come by. Comments from writers have included, “as fluid as it is hilarious,” “leaves you breathless,” “give it stars all the way off the page,” and “proves to be just about the most perfect way to start a very big project on the very big topic of American History and identity.”
Tickets are expected to sell quickly for these added performances. Call the Box Office at (541) 482-4331 or go to www.osfashland.org.
More information about American Night.

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American Night added shows!

September 20th, 2010 herbert Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

First time ever, OSF adds performances
September 17, 2010
tags: Richard Montoya, OSF, American Night, Oregon Shakespeare
by julianabroad
from the release: 
Ashland, Ore.— Due to extraordinary demand for tickets, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has added four performances of American Night: The Ballad of Juan José. The inaugural production of American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle, written by Richard Montoya and Culture Clash, is running at 99% of capacity to date.   In an unprecedented move, the Festival has added performances. The dates are:
Wednesday, September 22 8:00 pm
Wednesday, September 29 8:00 pm
Sunday, October 10 8:00 pm
Thursday, October 21 1:30 pm
 Reviews of the production have been stellar, and excellent word of mouth has made tickets difficult to come by. Comments from writers have included, “as fluid as it is hilarious,” “leaves you breathless,” “give it stars all the way off the page,” and “proves to be just about the most perfect way to start a very big project on the very big topic of American History and identity.” 
Tickets are expected to sell quickly for these added performances. Call the Box Office at (541) 482-4331 or go to www.osfashland.org.  
More information about American Night.

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History lessons with the Culture Clash seal

August 16th, 2010 herbert Posted in Home, Press | No Comments »

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‘American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,’ whose earnest themes are leavened with humor, is a hot ticket at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times

August 16, 2010

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Richard Montoya says he’s “obsessed with the night” and the history-making players that go bump in it.

Fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. Mexican immigrants wading across the Rio Grande. Radical labor organizers and hard-line Arizona sheriffs. Lewis and Clark and Jackie Robinson, Sacagawea and Joan Baez, Fidel Castro and Malcolm X.

While a few of these nocturnal convergences are historical facts, others are simply dramatic metaphors and theatrical phantasms. But all of them somehow wander their way into “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” the new play by Montoya and Culture Clash that’s one of the toughest tickets to come by at this summer’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“Under the cover of darkness we find out who we are as Americans,” says Montoya, actor, playwright and co-founder with Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas of Culture Clash, the L.A.-based ensemble that for 25 years has been fusing politically probing sketch seriocomedy with slapstick-erudite sociology.

“American Night,” a characteristic Culture Clash mixture of earnest themes leavened with topical humor, antic stagecraft and irreverent portrayals of famous personages, opened June 29 and runs through Oct. 31. It’s inaugurating “American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle,” the OSF’s new decade-long series of up to 37 original plays (matching Shakespeare’s career total) dealing with “moments of change” in U.S. history. Alison Carey, the cycle’s director and the OSF’s associate director, says that Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director Bill Rauch and she thought the immigrant-themed “American Night” would be an ideal and extremely timely work to launch the series.

As co-founders of L.A.’s Cornerstone Theatre Company, Carey and Rauch also were familiar with Culture Clash’s previous works, several of which have used mongrel theater forms to explore America’s mixed ethnic and cultural identity.

“If we can inspire conversation about the core values of our country,” Carey says, “I would love that to happen.”

The play’s central conceit involves a Mexican immigrant, Juan José (played by René Millán, who lapses into a fever dream while studying for his U.S. citizenship exam.

Out of Juan José’s mind springs a vision of the nation’s history shaped by ceaseless waves of immigrants as well as by those who aided or resisted their becoming a new thread in the national fabric.

“The idea which has stayed with the piece is looking at these people who at the darkest times in American history have poured light, who have shown good about America during times that are very bad about America,” says Jo Bonney, the play’s Australian-born director, who was sworn in as a U.S. citizen four days after Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

In the course of Juan José’s centuries-spanning, intermission-less 93-minute odyssey, he’s swept up in a ‘tea party’ rally and the signing of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (in which the defeated Mexico yielded about one-third of its territory to the U.S.). He crosses paths with Ralph Lazo, a Mexican Irish American Angeleno teenager who chose to accompany his friends to the World War II Japanese internment camp at Manzanar; and Viola Pettus, an African American Texas nurse who ministered to all and sundry, regardless of ethnicity or social stature, during the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic. Her patients even reportedly included Ku Klux Klansmen’s kin.

Among the other characters performed by the nine-member cast, which includes Montoya and Siguenza, is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial Arizona lawman who has been in the eye of the current immigration-debate whirlwind. The play even nods to one of the Bard’s offerings at this year’s festival, “The Merchant of Venice,” when a character paraphrases Shylock: “Hath not a Mexican eyes?”

To make the history lessons go down smoothly, there are generous dollops of disarming, equal-opportunity-offender jibes bearing the Culture Clash seal. Sample: an infant Klansman’s offspring comes complete with its own miniature hooded head.

The show has been selling at 98% capacity of the festival’s New Theatre stage, and critics have heaped praised. A Sacramento Bee reviewer described it as a “brilliant, satiric whirlwind,” and a critic for the Mail Tribune in southern Oregon called it “a boisterous, rollicking, surreal, postmodern, postracial (warning: Some descriptions may contain irony) journey into American history.”

Montoya says that audience members, whatever their political persuasion, have come to sympathize with the play’s hero, as performed by the charismatic Millán. “He’s got, like, 2% body fat, which really helps,” Montoya says.

Although there’s no plan to bring “American Night” to Los Angeles, Montoya says it’s “a no-brainer” that the show will be seen here, “and by that time, in a year or two hopefully, we will have a home there at the Westlake Theatre in MacArthur Park

Montoya has an added incentive for making sure that “American Night” gets seen by as many people as possible: Just two weeks before the show opened, he and his wife became the proud parents of a new baby boy, Mountain Malaquias Velasco Montoya.

“I try to keep that in mind every day I do this piece, we do use a lot of humor and a lot of comedy, but the stakes are very high for the people trying to cross that desert. Not to be melodramatic, but it’s really about life and death,” he says.

“At some point I have to sit my son down and tell him about this.”

reed.johnson@latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

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American Night review

July 5th, 2010 herbert Posted in Press, Schedule | No Comments »

Play offers offbeat, surreal take on our country’s past
‘American Night’ kicks off OSF’s history cycle of plays with rollicking, insightful satire and occasional pathos

By Bill Varble
for the Mail Tribune

A colored cowboy, a Mexican revolutionary and a Ku Klux Klansman all walk into a saloon …

The premise is put forth by Ben Pettus (Rodney Gardiner), a black cowboy in “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” which had its world premiere Saturday afternoon at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s New Theatre.

There’s no punch line, but the setup, with its hint of meta-theater, breaks the tension between three real (in the play) men who fit those descriptions.

It is 1918, and the three are facing off outside El Paso, Texas, where Ben’s wife, Viola Pettus (Kimberly Scott), is selflessly treating victims of the influenza epidemic that killed as many as 100 million people.

It is fitting that she do this, as it jibes with the larger vision of the play, which seems to have been inspired by a belief that often in American history, in the middle of great darkness, somebody steps up to do great good.

The credits say Richard Montoya and Culture Clash wrote the thing, but I don’t believe it.

It plays as if written by the Firesign Theatre and directed by the Marx Brothers, starring Monty Python.

“American Night” is a boisterous, rollicking, surreal, post-modern, postracial (warning: some descriptions may contain irony) journey into American history — and by extension the heart of one man’s American Dream.

Viewing is known to cause unrestrained laughter — and maybe a tear.

Juan José’s (René Millán) journey will take him over mountains and deserts, into wars and plagues, from rock festivals to shlock radio shows to internment camps. He will encounter Teddy Roosevelt, Sacajawea, a Shakespeare-quoting soldier, a bear, Malcolm X, NAFTA, Mormons, Harry Bridges, Bob Dylan, a tea bag lady, Fidel Castro and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

There will be social commentary, some of it caustic, all of it comic, most of it very funny indeed.

The seed of “American Night” seems to have been “The Citizen’s Almanac,” a sort of Civics 101 booklet published by the government for immigrants trying to become American citizens. Juan José left Mexico, where he was headed for trouble with drug lords and crooked cops, hoping to bring his wife, Lydia (Stephanie Beatriz), and the couple’s baby later.

In the U.S., using flash cards to cram for his citizenship exam, he falls asleep and dreams the play. The narrative has the fractured, disjointed structure of dreams, with one episode segueing into the next outside the normal constraints of rationality or plot.

Juan José finds himself in the Mexican-American War in the 1840s and wants to stop the killing, but the treaty he’s asked to sign will cede a good chunk of North America to the United States at the expense of Mexico, not incidentally making him into an outlaw. What to do?

“Hath not a Mexican eyes?” cries a Mexican soldier, quoting Shylock.

Rim roll.

Sacajawea is a 15-year-old with an attitude. T.R. never sees an animal he doesn’t shoot at. A Klansman with nowhere else to turn brings his baby to black Viola — and the infant has a tiny, little, pointy Klan hood.

Flash forward a bit and it’s a world in which America is ever more Mexican, and Mexico is ever more American, and Nike sneakers can rain from the skies. All this is painted by Montoya and director Jo Bonney in very broad strokes indeed. Scenic designer Neil Patel’s thrust stage fills the entire playing space, with Shawn Sagady’s projections filling in and/or commenting on much of the action: landscapes, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Manzanar internment camp for Japanese-Americans, the 1969 Woodstock festival, vintage postcards, the inevitable moving train, the Caribbean.

For a world of NAFTA there are giant projections of industrial gears and cogs filling the back of the stage like that famous scene in Chaplin’s “Modern Times.”

Much of the story involves stereotypes, with Culture Clash coming down on the side of the argument that says when we laugh at them they are undercut and lose power.

And laugh we do. Mostly. You can’t tell this story without ugly. There is a sign, of a sort once common, that says “No dogs, negroes, Mexicans.” But in the end the satire is the big-hearted, inclusive, Horation sort.

There is Woody Guthrie claiming this land is his land, and ours, and Harry Bridges organizing workers against the bosses, and a stoner Boy Dylan copping song lyrics to inject into loopy dialogue.

The surreal anarchy of the climax reminded me of “Duck Soup,” but Juan José is no Rufus T. Firefly. Millán plays him, brilliantly, as a straight man with a good heart in the midst of comic chaos, as befits what is essentially a zany but profound civics lesson.

“American Night” lasts but 90 minutes, and tickets should be impossible. Give it stars all the way off the page. And note that it debuted exactly 75 years after the first-ever OSF plays. It is the first of Bill Rauch’s “American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle,” 37 commissioned plays that will tell America’s story. It is a rousing, heartfelt beginning.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at varble.bill@gmail.com.

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American Night at OSF!

May 31st, 2010 herbert Posted in Schedule | No Comments »

Oregon Shakespeare Festival
OverviewArtistsPhoto GalleryLearn More

Home of the brave
As Juan José studies for his citizenship exam, his obsession to pass takes him on a fantastical odyssey. On a zig-zag journey through U.S. history, Juan discovers America’s best in a handful of unsung citizens who made courageous choices in some of the country’s toughest times. L.A.’s legendary Culture Clash partners with company actors in a cutting, comic mix of past and present, stereotype and truth that will move you into a deeper vision of our shared story. American Nightpremieres OSF’s highly anticipated U.S. history cycle, American Revolutions.

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May 31st, 2010 herbert Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

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ARIZONA-No Mames!

May 31st, 2010 herbert Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

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Arizona Shame on YOU!

May 31st, 2010 herbert Posted in Home, Uncategorized | No Comments »

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May 25th, 2010 herbert Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

New Play by Richard Montoya and Culture Clash

New Play by Richard Montoya and Culture Clash

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