Having traveled thousands of miles (Potter could work on the heat and exhaustion) to be surrounded once again by hostile faces and wielded guns, Capt. Siler believes only Ray’s father (Russell Means), the local tribal chief, can pull away the veils of uncertainty. And in passing he may be able to help with her own father issues.
Though “Palestine” summons up any number of tribal culture clashes including the Jewish diaspora (note ironic title), as a dramatic event it’s paper-thin, and helmer Lisa Peterson doesn’t exactly ratchet up the suspense. Still, she leaves room for a gallery of pungent and often moving character portraits: Geraldine Keams’ tribal medico evoking “South Pacific”’s Bloody Mary; Herbert Siguenza’s slow-witted but good-hearted lawman; Julia Jones’ delicate Dacotah, the widow Birdsong aching for answers.
Room is also set aside for far too much silliness, notably when Culture Clashers Siguenza, Ric Salinas and playwright Richard Montoya dodder in as geriatric Three Stooges for a pointless convocation of VFW members.
But the troupe shows admirable restraint in not overindulging their penchant for semi-improvised off-topic zingers. (The cheap Tiger Woods joke, however, ought to go.)
And all the buildup to the chief’s entrance is justified by Means’ enormous gravitas and authenticity. Like the character he plays, Means is a man of his time who seems eminently in touch with those of earlier times, his own ’70s involvement with the American Indian Movement movingly evoked in the chief’s reminiscences.
Palestine” is complicated but thematically quite simple: there’s hope for solving all manner of tribal conflicts, on this side of the globe and every other. Through sheer sincerity, Peterson and the Clashers convey a peace on earth/good will to men message other so-called “Christmas shows” would envy — one especially welcome as a troubled 2009 fades into history.
Beyond the projections in the psychedelic vision quest, Alexander V. Nichols creates numerous stunning effects against and atop Rachel Hauck’s sturdy arrangement of stone and sky.
With: LaVonne Rae Andrews, Michelle Diaz, Brandon Oakes, Robert Owens-Graygrass, Kalani Queypo.
The 1926 Westlake Theatre now houses a swap meet.Â (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times /Â August 15, 2008)
Under a proposal spearheaded by the Community Redevelopment Agency of the city of Los Angeles (CRA/LA), the Westlake Theatre, which was built in 1926 and currently is used for a swap meet, would be converted into a multi-use entertainment space for live theater, film screenings, musical performances and community and social events. The project also would include the creation of 49 units of affordable housing and a 300-space parking garage.
According to CRA officials, the Music Box@Fonda, which runs the Music Box theater in Hollywood, would operate and program the revamped Westlake Theatre, and Culture Clash, the popular and respected Latino performance ensemble that is marking its 25th anniversary this year, would become the facility’s resident theater company. In addition to performing at the theater for a minimum of 30 days per year, Culture Clash would provide youth-oriented programming and instruction in writing and acting, said Leslie Lambert, the CRA’s administrator for its Hollywood and Central region.
“They’re very popular; they attract a big audience,” said Lambert in explaining the selection of Culture Clash, known for its mix of antic comedy and biting social commentary. “Ethnically, they fit perfectly with that community. They’re very much in touch with that community. [And] they’ll bring in audiences from elsewhere.”
Richard Montoya of Culture Clash, who with colleagues Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas has operated as a gypsy ensemble since the group moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, praised the Westlake Theatre as “a grand old faded lady” and said the trio was excited about finally acquiring a “bricks and mortar” home of its own.
“Thank God there’s angels in bureaucracy — there are — that have said, ‘You guys deserve a home,’ ” Montoya said in a recent interview. “We’re, like, two Salvadorans, one Chicano, there’s a need in the area.”
However, he emphasized, MacArthur Park is “not an area devoid of culture. No, it’s a very, actually, sophisticated place.”
Indeed, the new facility is intended to enhance the revitalization of one of the city’s most culturally rich neighborhoods, following a long period in which soaring crime rates and economic decline marred the area’s image. The 633-acre Westlake Recovery Redevelopment Project Area was conceived in 1999 with the aims of stimulating economic development, rehabilitating existing housing and businesses, creating new housing, and improving public infrastructure and services. Other neighborhood projects include buffing up building facades.
Last week, the CRA’s board of commissioners voted to begin negotiations with the project’s developers, Millennium Partners, which will have up to 15 months to produce a formal plan to convert the 18,000-square-foot structure and the 1.2-acre site, which is bounded by Wilshire Boulevard, 6th and Alvarado streets and Westlake Avenue.
Plans call for the facility’s ground floor to be used for retail; and there has been discussion of adding a central courtyard and a rooftop restaurant. The city will help the swap meet vendors operating in the building to find new quarters.
Lambert estimated that the total cost of the project would be between $20 million and $25 million. She said it is likely that a not-for-profit entity would be formed to assume ownership of the building or else lease it from CRA, which purchased the structure in 2008.
The project would be funded by “largely if not entirely public money,” she said, and historic tax credits could be applied, given the building’s landmark stature.
Millennium — which, Lambert said, was chosen as the project’s overall developer after a lengthy process of competitive application and soliciting community input — has developed mixed-use properties, including apartment complexes, hotels and office space.
Neither Music Box nor Millennium representatives could be reached for comment.
Lambert said the theater’s old proscenium stage will have to be rebuilt, and retractable seats will be installed. Reduced ticket prices for Culture Clash performances will be offered to area residents, she added.
Montoya said that having a permanent space would enable Culture Clash to extend its creative endeavors and share its resources and knowledge with emerging artists.
“At least turn the keys over to some young people and say, ‘We’re done, we’re just over here if you need us, but here’s the keys to the asylum.’ ”
Copyright Â© 2009,Â The Los Angeles Times
- Steven Winn,Â SanÂ Francisco Chronicle
Secrets in theÂ Military. Conflicts on the Rez. AÂ female U.S. Army Captain returns from Iraq to inform the Chief of a NewÂ Mexico Native American tribe that his son died under her command. OfficiallyÂ classified as a friendly fire death, the suspicious circumstances create aÂ crisis of conscience for Captain Siler, who takes the case of Lance CorporalÂ Raymond Birdsong to the Military Courts.
CultureÂ Clash, L.A.â€™s premiere Chicano performanceÂ group, returns with a World Premiere play about Americaâ€™s constantly shiftingÂ political landscape exploring loss, identity and the notion of occupiedÂ homelands.
RichardÂ Montoya employs the groupâ€™s signature research and interview process to mold anÂ intensely personal story.Â Palestine, New Mexico promises to be an inherently theatrical work that mixes humor and cold fact toÂ unforgettable and galvanizing effect.
From the team thatÂ brought you the sold-out Taper hitsÂ ChavezÂ Ravine andWater & Power!
Richard Montoya for Culture Clash
Ric Salinas of Culture Clash, the trio that reigns as undisputed clown princes of L.A. bilingual theater, has a laugh at Dodger Stadium with his daughters Daisy, 7, and, at right, Lola, 8.Â (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
The occasion was a performance of “Peace,” Aristophanes’ perpetually timely 2,400-year-old antiwar comedy, updated to take stock of the latest global quagmires and packed with references to Michael Jackson, Brentwood versus Boyle Heights sensibilities and other punchy anachronisms.
The actors included avant-garde stalwart John Fleck and prolific TV and stage veteran Amy Hill. But the production’s throbbing Greco-Chicano heart was the vaudevillian antics of Montoya, Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas, better known by their collective moniker ofÂ Culture Clash, who adapted the play with John Glore, associate artistic director ofÂ South Coast Repertory.
Although the Getty’s faux-classical environs offered a ready-made symbol of old-school L.A. exclusivity, on this night the audience was a congenial SoCal blend of old and young, Eastside and Westside, Spanish-dominant and Anglo-centric. Among those who attended the show’s three-week run was a new fan so impressed that he fired off an e-mail.
“You guys are heroes and geniuses, clowns and dramatists,” it read. “My wife and I saw you in ‘Peace’ . . . you entertained us, and you tossed a couple of bombs, too, noisy things that did just the right amount of collateral cultural damage. I am an admirer of your work from now on.” It was signed ” Tom Hanks.”
If midlife is an age of sublimated madness, the three clown princes of bilingual L.A. theater — all hovering around mortality’s midpoint — appear to be hitting their manic prime. Since their tumultuous beginnings in a San Francisco art gallery in 1984, Siguenza, Salinas and Montoya have honed their intellectually rambunctious brand of comedy to a machete-like edge. For the group and its longtime followers, “Peace,” with its outlandish visual and verbal conceits (flying dung beetles, Central American gardeners materializing in the middle of ancient Athens) represents something of a return to the group’s anarchic sketch-comedy roots.
“People who . . . have seen us since the ’80s have come to ‘Peace’ and said, ‘Wow, this really reminds me of your early work, as far as the irreverence, the freedom of it,” Siguenza said. “We’re running around like 25-year-olds, you know, yet we’re 50 now.”
But with the big 5-0 looming, Culture Clash has acquired a gravitas to match its frisky spirits. In “Peace,” which Aristophanes wrote as a bawdy rebuttal to the dreadful toll of theÂ Peloponnesian War, the double entendres and sight gags yield to some chilling reflections on warfare’s immoral waste.
This year, to mark its 25th anniversary, the group is tracing its artistic evolution in suitably frenetic but serious-minded style.
Over time, Culture Clash has transitioned from doing mainly sketch comedy (or “political cabaret,” in Montoya’s formulation) to nervy, full-blown scripted works. Typically based on extensive research and scores of interviews, they’re laced with historical cross-examining and brimming with audacious sociological slapstick.
The list includes “Chavez Ravine,” about the Latino community that was bulldozed aside by urban visionaries; “Water & Power,” a tragi-humorous take on the classic L.A. narrative of H2O and municipal corruption; and their latest work,Â â€ś Palestine, New Mexico,â€ť which deals with America’s shifting political landscapes and the parallel searches for identity and a homeland. Like “Chavez” and “Water,” “Palestine,” directed by Lisa Peterson, is concerned with the unearthing of long-held family and community secrets and will have its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum (in December).
But that’s only one act in a fall calendar that includes aÂ tribute Friday at UCLAâ€™s Royce Hall featuring appearances by Rage Against the Machine’s Zack De La Rocha, troubadour Michelle Shocked and others.
Also this fall, the trio will begin scoping out “American Night,” an Oregon Shakespeare Festival commission that will inaugurate its 10-year cycle of American history plays. Culture Clash’s work, which will open next year, focuses on an immigrant man who drifts into a fever dream while preparing for his citizenship exam and turns into a time-traveling Zelig.
“The American night is a very dark place — it can be,” said Montoya, “and it’s usually in the American night when immigrants are moving through the night. Whether it was Harriet Tubman or an Indian guide or a Quaker or someone, there was sometimes someone holding up a lantern guiding the way, and that’s where you find the best of the American character.”
Perhaps most significantly, the footlose troupe soon may have a permanent home. As part of a prospective city-backed restoration project, Culture Clash is in negotiations with L.A.’s Community Redevelopment Agency to become resident artists at a new multi-purpose cultural venue that would occupy the historic Westlake Theatre at the edge of MacArthur Park. “People are very excited about Culture Clash going into the Westlake,” said Leslie Lambert, a CRA regional administrator. “They’re very much in touch with that community.”
This flurry of projects and praise has put Culture Clash in a mood simultaneously edgy and contemplative. To a degree, the group still feels it’s trying to shed its early image as a kind of Chicano-agitprop Three Stooges. Even before the breakthrough of “Water & Power,” Montoya, who has assumed principal authorship of the group’s scripted works, said he was “on a mission to drive a stake through the heart of the idea that we were a comedy troupe.”
“And that’s what’s funny with all the newspapers: They still try to keep you in that, ‘Oh, the comedy troupe, light and frivolous,’ ” he said. “But yet there’s this yearning and a restlessness that we have as artists.”
Practically from the moment the trio came kicking and screaming into the world at a Bay Area performance on it has aroused equal measures of admiration and confusion. Were these serious political commentators or breezy stand-ups? What was the deal with that bilingual rapping, those cheesy wigs, that verbal melange of potty jokes and erudite allusions?
Above all, some observers harrumphed, how could an ensemble consisting of a Mexican-American from Sacramento and two sons of Salvadoran immigrants take such unbridled, politically incorrect pleasure in toppling Latin American idols from their pedestals?
“We would do material on sacred cows, whether it was Frida Kahlo or Che Guevara,” Salinas recalled. “People reacted. They hadn’t seen that before.”Indignant Berkeley lefties took offense. Stanford University practically ran them off the campus. Even friends and relatives warned that the group was being overly irreverent at a time when Latinos were combating prejudicial stereotypes.
“It was very controversial, because the idea was that the movement was still very much a serious matter and it was too early for the clowns,” Montoya recalled. “I mean, we were hopefully doing some important stuff, but we were also wearing fishnet stockings. People very close to us were just like, ‘No,Â mi’jo, it’s not time.’ ”
But many members of those first audiences discerned a brash, important new voice in the American theater and began following it, first in the Bay Area, then in Los Angeles, Culture Clash’s adopted home since the early 1990s. That voice subsequently has infiltrated venues stretching from Lincoln Center to Midwestern college auditoriums, aired on PBS and Fox, and been studied in courses at UCLA.
“We were saying stuff that everybody had thought about but never said, you know?” Siguenza said. “About growing up, about being bilingual, bicultural, connected to people, resonated with people very deeply. And it still does. That’s why I think we’re around. Because that hasn’t changed, that sense of not belonging.”
The idea of belonging or not belonging is tricky when discussing a group inspired by artists as disparate as Peter Sellars, Guillermo GĂłmez-PeĂ±a, Bertolt Brecht, Lenny Bruce and Dario Fo. Most influential of all, perhaps, was the proletarian panache and seat-of-the-pants resourcefulness of El Teatro Campesino, the farmworkers’ theater company founded by Luis ValdĂ©z in 1965 to support striking grape farmers.
Since arriving in Los Angeles, the trio’s work has been nurtured by such luminaries as the South Coast Rep creative team; director JosĂ© Luis Valenzuela; Gordon Davidson, the founding artistic director of the Mark Taper; and his successor, Michael Ritchie. Davidson said that even as Culture Clash has matured artistically, “they haven’t lost their identity and a kind of purity.”
“They don’t make you feel that they know more than you do, that you’re going to listen and we’re going to tell you,” Davidson said. “That’s part of the gift of comedy, but it’s also what’s in their souls.”
Others point to the group’s fraternal chemistry as one of its great assets. “They really trust each other. There’s no early-dating stage,” Ritchie said. “They’re well into a marriage that isn’t going to end.”
While the political climate around them keeps changing, Culture Clash continue to style themselves as equal opportunity offenders. In more than a dozen shows that they’ve produced since the Reagan-Bush era, they’ve taken on City Hall power brokers, U.S. immigration policy, Chicano intellectuals, the Rodney King beating and its terrifying aftermath,Â Father Junipero Serra, the Dodgers and the L.A. Times, among many others. You’d be hard pressed to name a local theater troupe that’s better attuned to the erratic, occasionally sublime frequencies of 21st century Los Angeles. Even victims of its wasp-ish attacks can’t help smiling at the group’s well-aimed stingers.
“It’s never mean-spirited,” Glore said. “There’s always a sense that they’re including the audience in the joke on itself.”
As Culture Clash ponders its next 25 years, its members will keep heeding advice they received nearly two decades ago from writer Sandra Cisneros. A couple of years before, Salinas had been blasted with a shotgun while trying to break up a gang fight outside his home in San Francisco; he nearly died on the operating table. After seeing one of the group’s shows in Hollywood, Cisneros told them, “Y’all need to be a little more reflective about what you’re doing.”
At the time, Montoya recalled, he and his confreres were riding in the back of a limousine. But Cisneros’ words touched a nerve and became a mantra. “I think the work deepened,” Montoya said. “I think it got a little darker.”
There remains a strong impulse in Culture Clash to lift a lantern up in those dark places, to find and repair through art whatever has been lost or damaged by history — with a laugh or two, whenever possible.
“Something that we found in common is, like, we all come from broken, divorced families,” Salinas said. “And I don’t know what that did to our psyche, but that did something. I know it informed the wanting of something.”
Aristophanes had a similar term for it: “the desire and pursuit of the whole.” Which, the Greek playwright once observed, is really just another name for love.
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Fri, Oct 30 at 8pm
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Culture Clash has been getting under the skin of America for 25 years now. Digging in with searing satire, cutting comedy and biting drama, this premier Latino performance troupe unsparinglyâ€”and hilariouslyâ€”points out the many cracks and chips in the U.S. melting pot. In recent years they’ve turned their jaundiced anthropological eye on Miami, San Diego, New York and other cities. But for this special anniversary, the boys are back in their hometown for a raucous party with an all-star invitation list: Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine; comedian Carlos Mencia; actors Edward James Olmos, Tony Plana and Lupe Ontiveros; plus other special guests and, as always, East L.A.â€™s house band Ollin. Audiences will get a sneak peek at the next Culture Clash project, â€śPalestine, New Mexico,â€ť and Clashers Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza will also reprise hits from their ever-popular â€śChavez Ravine.â€ť
At first glance, Culture Clash and the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes wouldn’t seem to share too much in common.
But the Los Angeles-based performance troupe has been known to take on politically and historically charged topics. And Aristophanes was a rebel, a provocative comic playwright who challenged the powers that be and the military-industrial establishment of his time.
Through Oct. 3, Culture Clash is presenting “Peace,” a bawdy, ribald play written by Aristophanes in 421 B.C. The venue is the Getty Villa’s outdoor Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, a classy, pristine amphitheater near the Pacific Ocean that takes on a life of its own during this nighttime production.
The Culture Clash trio has infused this rarely performed ancient play with numerous contemporary references and jokes. “Welcome to the Getty Poncho Villa” says one Culture Clash member in an introductory monologue. The place is later referred to as “the Ghetto Villa,” and several other local references are sprinkled throughout: “I hate Glendale!” “Who doesn’t, sir?” and “I’m already committed to a men’s drumming circle in Laguna.”
A script nod should be given to co-author John Glore, associate artistic director of South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. The director of “Peace” is Bill Rauch, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a professor of drama at UC Irvine from 2005-07.
In the original Aristophanes play, the merciless god War has imprisoned the goddess Peace on Mount Olympus and is having his way with Greece. Meanwhile, down on Earth, a group of ragtag objectors devise a plan to fly to the heavens, rescue the goddess, and restore Peace to the land.
The Culture Clash version essentially follows the same plot, except the leader, a farmer, is a pot farmer played by John Fleck. He’s hilarious in his role as Trygaeus, or Ty Dye.
Fleck cracks a lot of jokes, some of them flatulent and others irreverent and profane. Tubular balloons are used as â€“ ahem â€“ props. So are blowup dolls. One should definitely leave the kids and sensitive young (or older) adults at home for this performance.
The three members of Culture Clash â€“ Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza â€“ play various roles, but they primarily focus on a trio of Guatemalan gardeners, ready at a moment’s notice to satisfy the neighbor/chorus leader, played by a humorous Amy Hill.
A mariachi trio, Las ColibrĂ, led by Suzanne Garcia, does an excellent job interspersing the proceedings with heartfelt music. (Incidentally, Garcia received her master’s degree in career counseling from Chapman University.)
Throughout “Peace,” the jokes come at you a mile a minute, or at least a few every couple of minutes. A good number of them are sexual, so be prepared. Some of them are tasteless. I didn’t laugh at the references to an “Oriental massage parlor in Van Nuys,” or to too many North Koreans on mid-Wilshire. As a matter of fact, there are probably hundreds ofÂ South Koreans on mid-Wilshire, and hardly any from the isolated communist country where it’s illegal to leave or enter.
The dig at Michael Silverblatt of KCRW (89.9 FM) is a bit too severe and overwrought. We get the joke that he’sÂ way into himself about a minute into the skit. Therefore, it doesn’t need to be stretched to 10-15 minutes.
Overall, however, the members of Culture Clash do a fine job transposing this ancient play to modern L.A. and Southern California.
While the friction between war and peace is a clearly relevant to today’s world, the players don’t hit you over the head with dogma or delivering their message.
Instead, they instruct through laughter, and a couple of touching metaphors at the end. It’s a worthwhile play in a magnificent venue; I would recommend giving “Peace” a chance.
The comedies of Aristophanesâ€”so sanely rebellious, so tastily profaneâ€”are perhaps more tantalizing to us moderns than the ancient Greek tragedies. They are also more theatrically elusive, loaded with topical references that require either heavy annotation or radical adaptation. And the gamboling lyrical intelligence thatÂ encourages metaphors to come to life makes it difficult for our prosier sensibilities to keep pace with these hilarious Dionysiac fever dreams.
In the wrong handsâ€”like the stodgy academic translation I read before attending theÂ Getty Villa’s new production of Aristophanesâ€™ â€śPeaceâ€ťâ€”the zaniness can have a musty, archaeological aroma.
Letâ€™s enjoy, then, for the time being this giddy reworking by John Glore and the Culture Clash trio of Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza, which may give short shrift to the playwrightâ€™s admittedly distant poetry but succeeds in forging a direct and exceedingly jokey connection with a local audience.
Sure, a phallus is worn by male actors in good old classical form. And thereâ€™s a valiant attempt to capture (within more demure 21st century limits) the ribald lunacy and satirically snapping spirit of the play, which was first done in 421 BC, 10 years into the ruinous 27-year-long Peloponnesian War, when a truce seemed likeÂ a not-so-distant possibility. But the production, resourcefully directed by Bill Rauch at the Villaâ€™s heavenly outdoor Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, is pitched expressly to contemporary Angelenos.
This update contains a young and impressionable Michael Jackson wannabe, references to President Obama, much ado about Eastside-Westside cultural differences, and a Latino gardening crew willing to transform into a randy chorus. And what denizen of this city wouldnâ€™t be charmed by the onstage presence of Las ColibrĂ, a trio of musicians with a breezy mariachi way of reinterpreting pop songs?
Culture Clash is no stranger to Aristophanes, having already done a version of â€śThe Birdsâ€ť at the Villaâ€™s indoor auditorium in 2007. Assuming multiple farcical roles here, the groupâ€™s performers stand ready to riff on current events from a Chicano perspective, indulge in textually relevant potty humor and whip themselves into a Marx Brothers frenzy.
John Fleck makes a delightful Trygaeus, here known as Ty Dye, a marijuana farmer and aging hippie whoâ€™s so sick of the endless imperialist campaign that he rides a dung beetle to Mt. Olympus to give the gods a piece of his mind. This is the happy idea that motors the action, a Utopian quest for peace that will be personally experienced as a sexual rejuvenation. Itâ€™s one of several plays by Aristophanes in which eros is held as the antithesis of destructionâ€”and proof that the â€śMake love, not warâ€ť message dates well before the Vietnam protests.
Joining the gleeful madness is Amy Hill, playing a nearby Malibu resident upset with all the noise who nonetheless decides to play the Chorus Leader. She may be rich and somewhat intolerant but her politics still lean to the left, and her boisterous command of the stage signals an Ethel Merman-like love of showbiz.
The playâ€”which involves the rescue of the goddess of peace (represented by a statue) who along with her nubile handmaidens (represented by blowup dolls)Â has been held hostage by the god of warâ€”offers great imaginative freedom for the design team. And Christopher Aceboâ€™s set, Shigeru Yajiâ€™s costumes and Lynn Jeffries’ puppet craft are even more colorful than the productionâ€™s gag-filled routines, whichÂ toÂ give you a sense of the liberties taken, turn Hermes into a prancing fashionista with groping hands.
The millenniums that separate us from Aristophanes may be unbridgeable, but Culture Clash and company find the common ground of our laugh-drunk, dirty-minded humanity.
“Peace,” Getty Villa’s Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater,17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. Ends Oct. 3. $42. (310) 440-7300 orÂ www.getty.edu. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.