In their fifth appearance at Berkeley Rep, Culture Clash, kings of provocative, politically charged comedy with a Latin flavor, have not lost their mojo. After their 35 years performing together, the three Mission District natives, Richard Montoya, Ricardo Salinas, and Herbert Sigüenza, are back at the Rep in their latest production. “Culture Clash (Still) in America” is an exceptionally funny, although occasionally somber, series of sketch comedies and short monologues (calling them “skits” would belittle their talent). Taken in its entirety, Culture Clash presents a hilarious glimpse into today’s American society, with all its unfortunate warts.
Written and performed by the trio and directed by two-time Obie Award winner Lisa Peterson (“The Good Book,” “Office Hour,” “An Iliad”), this 110-minute, no intermission laugh-fest contains some recycled bits. But they’ve been updated, and are still as sidesplitting as when you may have seen them in the past. Not every piece will appeal to each audience member, but as a whole, their point of view is always that of the ethnic or sexual minority: Chicano, Muslim, and transgender, among others. Added to the humor, however, are some more serious observations about the state of our nation.
So for example, in between the audience-pandering, yet funny throw-away lines about Orinda and San Leandro, are two poignant scenes about the same incident — a father and his 7-year-old daughter violently separated at the U.S. border by ICE agents — first told by the heartbroken father, and then reported by a lawyer trying to deal with the cruel process.
In the midst of the satire, it is easy to overlook Culture Clash’s gifted physicality. Yet, physical comedy is at the core of their talent. Ricardo Salinas, as Junior, a “Nuyorican” (Puerto-Rican New Yorker), is impressive as he demonstrates how Latinos from different countries dance the salsa. His arms flap like a chicken as he mimics Mexicans, and his facial expression grows serious as he imitates Puerto Ricans, who look as though they are wondering whether they left their irons on.
The inane Miami couple of Todd (Herbert Sigüenza in a blond wig) and his wife, Francis, of Cuban ancestry (Ricardo Salinas, constantly primping a brown wig) are interviewed by Richard Montoya. The couple loves their work in demolition because all the hurricanes keep their business thriving. Aside from the silliness of the duo, what makes this sketch so amusing is the telling body language between husband and wife, and their ability to speak over each other with perfect timing.
Although they are always in control, the trio has fun on stage. So when we are watching two aging Berkeley hippies smoke a joint, they toss out a few joints to the audience. Culture Clash members have perfected their medium; their enjoyment is infectious; their timing is perfect; they know their audience and how to appeal to it. With just enough seriousness in the mix to make it real, “Culture Clash (Still) in America” is the type of lighthearted, yet intelligent evening of theater we crave.
This article first appeared on Berkeleyside.
By Emily S. Mendel
© Emily S. Mendel 2020 All Rights Reserved