The evening began with potent specialty drinks dubbed La Jolla Sunrise (1800 Tequila, orange juice and grenadine) and Fever Dream (St. Petersburg Vodka and grapefruit juice), and several food stations offering Mexican dishes (The Hyatt Regency La Jolla donated all the catering). The food and drinks were a match for the performance; Culture Clash’s “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José.” The play presents a sort of nightlong fever dream of Juan José, a former Mexican policeman immersed in cramming for the U.S. citizenship test he’s about to take. Richard Montoya originally wrote the play for the three members of Culture Clash (including himself). They and director Jo Bonney developed it, and the expanded version running at LJP employs a cast of nine ethnically diverse members — but since most play multiple parts, the cast seems much larger.
Shortly before everyone headed to the Potiker Theatre for the play, the director — herself a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Australia — gave some insightful and entertaining commentary about the play’s background and development. She noted that citizenship exams require applicants to study American history. They must learn the official version, but some also seek alternate versions written by voices outside of the mainstream, expressing history as seen by such groups as Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, women, etc. This was no preachy political lecture, but the play uses humor (and lots of it!) to open people’s eyes and minds.
Once the play began, the humor disarmed even those most sensitized to immigration issues. Culture Clash members are noted for being improvisational and incorporating daily news and local lore into their performances. Their mention of basketball great Bill Walton became more meaningful when playgoers realized that Big Bill and his wife, Lori, were right there in the audience. Energetic cast members kept the barbs and the laughs coming nonstop, appearing and re-appearing as new characters. They did it all without an intermission, earning an enthusiastic standing ovation at the play’s end.
Guests reconvened for the after-party, where they enjoyed desserts, libations and dancing to the music of DJ Shammy Dee. Gradually, cast members joined the party, chatting amicably with the admiring throng. Their performances will continue through Feb. 26. Following this production, LJP will “stage” something unique called “The Car Plays,” a series of intimate 10-minute plays, each taking place in a car. Two-person audiences will be ushered to their seats in a vehicle, the car doors will close and the drama will unfold just inches away. Ten minutes later, they’ll move to another car for the next play, and in the course of an hour, five stories will be revealed.
“‘The Car Plays’ combines the pleasures of site-specific theatre and voyeurism,” noted Critics Choice (with a wink and a grin, no doubt).
Bringing together seemingly disparate ideas — and disciplines — often yields significant benefits, including greater understanding of issues and more creative solutions to problems. La Jolla’s Birch Aquarium at Scripps and downtown’s New Children’s Museum joined forces and used their contact lists, websites and electronic social media to invite people to their joint event, held at the aquarium on Monday evening. More than 300 people RSVP’d for the gathering, titled “Trash: Art + Science Intersect,” which was free and open to the public.
They had several attractive reasons to attend, including a chance to view the aquarium’s exhibits and network with others while enjoying hosted wine and hors d’oeuvres during the first half of the two-hour event. The next hour featured a fascinating panel discussion about the accumulation of plastic trash in the gigantic North Pacific Gyre, and how both artists and scientists are looking into the issue. The evening was a grand success, and more such events are planned for the future.