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On Theater: Culture Clash still delivers politically relevant commentary packaged as comedy

On Theater: Culture Clash still delivers politically relevant commentary packaged as comedy
“Culture Clash (Still) in America,” which is written and performed by Richard Montoya, Ricardo Salinas and Herbert Siguenza of Culture Clash, runs at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa through Jan. 20. (Photo by Jordan Kubat / South Coast Repertory)

Political satire is at its zenith these days, primarily among late-night TV show hosts. But playgoers with long memories may recall the three-comic troupe known as Culture Clash all the way back from its 1998 production of “The Birds” at South Coast Repertory.

Twenty years later, they’re back with “Culture Clash (Still) in America” and heating up SCR’s Julianne Argyros Stage with observations of life as they experience it – sometimes goofy, sometimes somber but mostly entertaining.

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The threesome consists of Richard Montoya, Ricardo Salinas and Herbert Siguenza, who do yeoman work, often in drag, under the spirited direction of Lisa Peterson. To credit one performer for a particularly effective skit is virtually impossible – it’s an astonishingly effective ensemble.

​​Richard Montoya and Herbert Siguenza performing in their latest show “Culture Clash (Still) in America.” Culture Clash first performed at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa 20 years ago.
​​Richard Montoya and Herbert Siguenza performing in their latest show “Culture Clash (Still) in America.” Culture Clash first performed at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa 20 years ago. (Photo by Jordan Kubat / South Coast Repertory)

The show opens with a shackled Mexican immigrant being interrogated by a pair of ICE agents (this is comedy, remember) and develops into a series of biting vignettes from the viewpoint of Latinos.

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What’s particularly impressive is the speed of the scenic and costume transitions, credited to Christopher Acebo and Carolyn Mazucat, respectively. They keep the tempo swift as the actors hurriedly switch from one character to another.

Mexican, Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican immigrants take their best shots in this abbreviated, 90-minute exercise. They may “go up” on lines on occasion, but the trio are thoroughly skilled in righting their satirical ship.

Richard Montoya and ​Ricardo Salinas perform a sketch about a Mexican immigrant being interrogated by ICE agents in the 2019 production of “Culture Clash (Still) in America” at South Coast Repertory.
Richard Montoya and ​Ricardo Salinas perform a sketch about a Mexican immigrant being interrogated by ICE agents in the 2019 production of “Culture Clash (Still) in America” at South Coast Repertory. (Photo by Jordan Kubat / South Coast Repertory)

The material is as current as this week’s news. The Clashers take on our reactions to the “caravan” massing on the border and the separation of children and parents by U.S. authorities. Curiously, the name “Trump” is conspicuous by its absence.

Salinas, Montoya and Siguenza share 35 years of experience in various Culture Clash projects and their comic byplay reflects this lengthy association. For the SCR production, they have localized the material somewhat with references to South Coast Plaza, Laguna Beach, Yorba Linda and other places familiar to Orange County audiences.

“Culture Clash (Still) in America” reflects with satirical humor the often painful experience of attempted assimilation. It's thought-provoking comedy at South Coast Repertory.

Tom Titus reviews local theater.

IF YOU GO

What: “Culture Clash (Still) in America”

Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Theater, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:45 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 and 7:45 p.m. until Jan. 20

Cost: Tickets start at $23

Information: (714) 708-5555, scr.org

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