This show, by those wild and crazy founders of Culture Clash, should be subtitled “The Strange and Sometimes Shameful History of Diversity in the U.S. (the short form).”
“American Night: The Ballad Of Juan José,” playing through Feb. 26 at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, tells of the long night of one Juan José (René Millán), who just wants a better life for himself, his pretty wife Lydia (Stephanie Beatriz) and their soon-to-be-born infant son.
So Juan José sits fighting off sleep, study booklet in one hand and a set of flash cards in the other, trying desperately to absorb the information for his U.S. citizenship exam in the morning.
But sleep overtakes him, and an exhaustion-inspired fever dream takes him on a surreal hop, skip and jump through American immigration history.
There’s a funny skit about the Mexican War, a bit about explorers Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, (here called Sacachihuahua) the Indian maiden who showed them the way.
Culture Clash always uses humor to make its points; this show is no exception. Teddy Roosevelt shows up, shooting a bear who removes his bear head and invites all to “join me to Occupy Legoland.”
There’s a bit with black nurse Viola Pettus (Kimberly Scott), who treats anybody who shows up, even ministering to the sick baby of a Klansman (both father and child in full Klan regalia).
Manzanar – the shameful concentration camp set up in California where Japanese American citizens were confined during World War II – is shown, along with a racist teacher named Mrs. Finney (Terri McMahon).
Jackie Robinson, the baseball great who broke the color barrier in major-league baseball, is here, as are Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Harry Bridges, the union activist, shows up, and there’s a country/western line dance done by ICE agents.
It’s a typical Culture Clash mishmash, making its points with humor ranging from mildly amusing to screamingly funny. It’s a good night in the theater.
“American Night: The Ballad Of Juan José” plays through Feb. 26 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive (UCSD campus).
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
For tickets, call (858) 550-1010 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.