Culture Clash Parodies Life In Los Angeles

A Chicano theater troupe uses political and religious satire, slapstick, music, and mime

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

CARPA CLASH Performance by Culture Clash. At the Mark Taper Forum through Dec. 23.

CULTURE Clash, now performing at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum, is, as its members would quickly point out, not a Hispanic theater troupe. It is a Chicano theater group, and if you don't know the difference you are not the ideal audience for these vaudevillians.

Not to worry, because a handy glossary of terms is provided in the program, as well as English translations. Culture Clash (consisting of Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza) was founded nearly 10 years ago in San Francisco.

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The group has since moved to Los Angeles and become increasingly popular through shows at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, appearances around the country, and television exposure (several half-hour variety shows for Fox Television).

Their new piece, ``Carpa Clash,'' refers to the tent shows that traveled through Mexico and the southwestern United States, and is a collection of short sketches and songs, many relating to the Chicano experience.

Although a familiarity with Chicano culture will further your enjoyment of the show, and non-Los Angeles residents will no doubt miss many of the jokes, Culture Clash is funny enough to transcend ethnic boundaries. They are skillful clowns and expert farceurs, and, with the aid of guest artist Marga Gomez, they put on a relentlessly funny and fast-paced evening.

``Carpa Clash'' is loosely tied around the theme of searching for the Chicano identity, which is signified by clown makeup and red noses. A Chicano is rudely separated from his nose by a pair of film-noir-style detectives and spends the rest of the evening trying to reclaim it. Along the way there is political and religious satire, slapstick, music, mime, and raucous burlesque.

Gomez, who gamely tackles the female roles (including Mary in ``The Miracle Play''), manages to keep up with the guys in fine fashion, and contributes a monologue (``Mimi'') that is as affecting as it is funny. Director Jose Luis Valenzuela keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and the show is further enlivened by the colorful tent setting by Edward E. Haynes Jr. and the elaborate artwork by GRONK.

The evening culminated in a lengthy tribute to the late leader of the United Farm Workers, Cesar Chavez. There was a curtain-call appeal for money by an official of the union, who delivered a long diatribe against California growers, and urged a boycott of grapes. The sincerity of the plea was in stark contrast to the anarchic humor that had preceded it.

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