Culture Clash - Segerstrom Center - January 31, 2014
courtesy Culture Clash
For a trio of such talented, creative and politically outspoken agent provocateurs, Culture Clash has been suspiciously subdued recently, at least on its home turf, Southern California.Though no strangers to Orange County, San Diego or, of course, Los Angeles County audiences, the three members haven't stepped on a local stage together since 2010.
It's not that they've been hibernating, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza worked with Richard Montoya on his epic mashup of American History, American Nights: The Ballad of Juan Jose, which debuted at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in 2010 and has been produced several times since. Montoya also adapted his 2006 Los Angeles-oriented play Power and Water, into a film, which opens in May. Siguenza has been teaching at UC Irvine and working with his one-man show about Pablo Picasso. And Salinas has been directing in San Francisco and Seattle, teaching directing at UCLA and is starring in the first play about Salvadorian gangs, which opens in April at the Los Angeles Theater Center. But while they're all busy, a bonafide Culture Clash show that embodies the heart and soul of a troupe that has spent much of the past 30 years on the road listening to people's stories and then spinning them into raucous, sobering theater, has been absent. Until last weekend.
As part of its answer to a huge theater fringe festival you'd see in New York, Los Angeles or Edinburgh, the third annual Segerstrom Center's Off Center Festival includes eight events or performances spread over two weekends. There are poets, performance artists Latin jazz quintets, German punk-comedy bands and other decidedly non-Andrew Lloyd Webber cash cows on display, but the highlight, at least from this perch in hell, is the return of Culture Clash to its roots.
The show is called Keep Culture and Clash On: 30 Years of Revolutionary Comedy Remastered. It's a world premiere, but to call it brand new isn't accurate. It drops a lot of references to Orange County, but to call it site-specific isn't accurate. But to call it an example of a successful troupe trafficking on the success of older work, also isn't accurate.
As the name suggests, this is remastered Culture Clash. Directed by Montoya, the piece pulls older bits and dusts them off, gives them a good spit shine, augments them with some new material, and marches it in a loosely-knit 90 minutes that actually shows how well so many of these sketches, some of which are more than 25 years old, still hold up.
Fans of Culture Clash will recognize many of the characters that were pulled from older site-specific plays that Culture Clash has done in locales ranging from San Francisco and San Diego, to Washington D.C. and Miami. Like Siguenza's flamboyant San Francisco transgender, who now is not just talking about hormone therapy, but provides some very detailed facts about just how a penis is transformed into a vagina (hint, every man with huevos will cringe at least once...). We've got the white married couple from Miami who own a demolition business not only discussing the money they make from hurricanes but also Trayvon Martin. We have the two older white women activists from the 1960s, getting together for grass and wine and reminiscing, but also mentioning the Kelly Thomas protests in Fullerton. And quick references to everything from South Santa Ana (the troupe's reference to South Coast Plaza), to that hotbed of radical activism in Orange County, Mission Viejo (which has four radicals), are scattered throughout.