THEATER REVIEW: Bravo to “American Night: The Ballad Of Juan José” | VIDEO

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.

The details

“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.


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