Absurdist Historical Comedy American Night: The Ballad of Juan José Addresses Immigration with Sardonic Humor
By Richard Montoya of legendary S.F. collaborative, Culture Clash
SALINAS, Calif. – The Western Stage is pleased to present Richard Montoya’s American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, a provocative, irreverent, and hilarious mix of past and present, stereotype and truth; that creates a deeper vision into our shared history. As Juan José feverishly studies for his citizenship exam, his obsession to pass takes him on a fantastical odyssey through U.S. history, guided by a handful of unsung citizens who made courageous choices in some of the country’s toughest times.
American Night: The Ballad of Juan José performs in the Studio Theater September 22 – October 7. Hartnell College, Building K, 411 Central Ave. Salinas, CA.
The show begins with a mournful Spanish ballad. As the first scene begins, Juan José repeats one of the lyrics in English: “My mother had too many tears in her eyes and too many sons in the ground.” Juan has left his Mexican hometown and his family behind, along with the drug war and his job as a Mexican Police Officer, which does not protect him from the violence, unless he agrees to join the corruption. Now, with hopes of becoming a U.S. citizen, Juan studies for his citizenship exam. One moment he is in an institutional room talking to two government officials; the next, he is in a dreamscape, where he embarks on a time-traveling expedition. Juan’s travels take us through American experiences with immigration and race, including the Civil Rights Movement and Japanese Internment Camps during WWII. The show is a giant hodgepodge of references, both historical and pop-cultural. A giant bear enters the stage, carrying three bright yellow Nike shoeboxes. Teddy Roosevelt refers to texting. An infant appears in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Jesus Christ pops in, billed with his middle initial, “H.” Just as Juan is being asked to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a Mexican woman crosses the stage, pushing an electric floor buffer. And an Elvis impersonator in a star-spangled jumpsuit gives a flashy finale. Anita Gates of The New York Times describes it best: “If ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ were being produced today, and in the United States rather than in Britain, it might look a lot like American Night.”
The show was conceived by writer-comedian Richard Montoya of Culture Clash, legendary S.F. based performance collaborative, whose work (often satirical in nature) explores controversial ideas of immigration and multiculturalism using the mediums of comedy, television, and theatre. In Montoya’s words, Culture Clash was created to be “part gallery installation, part stand-up, and part theater – Chicano Teatro.” He follows in the steps of his father, famous activist José Montoya, and is known for creating social and political change through a variety of artistic expressions. American Night: The Ballad of Juan José was commissioned in 2010 by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in Ashland, OR
The cast includes El Teatro Campesino actor/director Adrian Torres in the role of Juan José (also a former circus performer!). The rest of the ensemble takes on an impressively wide range of roles. Actors include TWS favorite, Donna Federico, as well as fellow locals: Gabriel Alvizo (last seen as Picasso in Picasso at the Lapin Agile), Denisha Ervin (You Can’t Take It With You), DeAnna Diaz (Tortilla Curtain), and Jacob Juarez (Tortilla Curtain). TWS welcomes back AEA guest artist Andres Ortiz, last seen as Tiburcio Vasquez in Bandido! New to TWS is Terrence Smith, a Bay Area actor and Academy of Art graduate, and Jack Clifford filling out the cast.
Directing American Night is longtime TWS Associate, Lorenzo Aragon; scenic design is by former Hartnell student, TJ Toribio; costume design by Allison Dillard of L.A.; hair and makeup design by staff Costume Manager, Maegan Roux; lighting design by Theodore Michael Dolas of Santa Barbara; and sound design by staff member, Taylor Wilson.