Culture Clash Chavez Ravine

a kate west review
Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, May 17 - July 6, 2003, (213) 972-7376
Directed by Lisa Peterson,
Company: Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, Eileen Galindo, Herbert Siguenza, John Avila, Randy Rodarte, Scott Rodarte

For almost twenty years, the "premiere Chicano comedy troupe" known as Culture Clash has performed their remarkable sketch comedy around the country, including creating the first Latino-themed sketch comedy television show for Fox T.V.
Their latest accomplishment, the world premiere play "Chavez Ravine," tells the story of the 1940's - 50's controversial land development deal on an area called Chavez Ravine by locals in Los Angeles. Each historical character is depicted with the group's now characteristic comedic precision and zeal. This is rendered all the more authentic with excellent set (Rachel Hauck) and costume (Christopher Acebo) design, the stage itself a stylized baseball diamond with large panels that portray various moments in Chavez Ravine history.

At the top of the play, Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully (the superbly talented Richard Montoya) introduces the new rookie Mexican pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (a dead-on impersonation by Herbert Siguenza) who, in this production, symbolizes the culmination of local Chicano pride after several decades' long struggle. Through clever flashbacks, a story of betrayal, cynicism and greed unfolds as the Los Angeles City Housing Authority decides to build subsidized low income housing in Chavez Ravine. The newly elected Los Angeles Mayor, Norris Paulson (delightfully clueless Ric Salinas), succumbs to the sinister public figures who coerce him to cancel the housing project leaving the local immigrants homeless. Although the people revolt, including poet Manazar (Herbert Siguenza) and an activist named Maria (sweetly portrayed by Eileen Galinda), industry and progress march on and the people are torn from their homes and eventually the Brooklyn Dodgers take over Chavez Ravine and become the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Because the Culture Clash members are such accomplished story-tellers, each plotline is poignantly clear and one character is more enchanting than the next. Particularly amusing are Richard Montoya and Ric Salinas as the famous comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, recreating the wonderfully timeless "Who's On First" routine. They get so frustrated with each other at one point that they burst into a Spanish version! Hilarious. There is also a "seventh inning stretch" when the entire cast comes out and sings "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and encourages the audience to sing-along while throwing bags of peanuts about the auditorium.

Although the play is rife with "chicano-isms" and local inside jokes (Artistic Director Gordon Davidson is depicted at one point), you don't have to be familiar with local Los Angeles history or understand Spanish to enjoy this engaging production. Culture Clash is comprised of talented, funny, savvy individuals with the ability to transcend time and culture. It makes for a wonderful evening and along with stories skillfully depicted with humor, joy, compassion and pathos; you'll also get a free history lesson. Highly, highly recommended.

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