Culture Clash’s Bordertown Now at the Pasadena Playhouse

Check it out at the Pasadena Playhouse: Culture Clash’s Bordertown Now. Loved it so much, I had to write some thoughts:

In the lively style of Culture Clash, Bordertown Now moves the audience in something like a roller coaster of emotion, but pacing keeps us from falling off the rails, with musical blasts and tsunamis of color punctuating each major scene. The political tragedy of the wall is interlaced with its personal story guided by “chroniclers” interviewing a border vigilante, a mother stuck in Nogales, or Sheriff Joe Arpaio. A history lesson – à la TED Talk – not only outlines the US involvement in El Salvador, but also exposes a contradiction between the content and the strange comfort we gain by this type of presentation. TED Talks are “good” for us. This combination of teaching moments in the play, and an ability to also laugh at oneself, is such a powerful force.

And while some of the elements are direct and straightforward, others emerge as abstractions that move us with their unspoken gestures. I’m thinking of an opening scene when the bride with all her fresh youth walks toward us, or another of Sabina Zúñiga Varela’s characters who glides forward wearing a niqab, and then disrobes to reveal her chronicler’s uniform and profession as a reporter. The stage set design shapeshifts with a similar fluidity between realism and abstraction, transforming to great effect, sometimes dreamlike and other times harsh.

The tension between what we know, what we need to know, and our difficult efforts at empathy are presented in an existential way here. As the audience, we are asked to give this inquiry a try, to experience discomfort as part of our connected human experience. The laughs and energy offered up by the riveting characters of the four performers, make space for us to feel an entire gut full of emotions. Culture Clash’s Richard Montoya, Herbert Sigüenza, and Ricardo Salinas offer unforgettable performances with an impressively wide range of characters to complete the storytelling. The cast’s multiple personas lend to our understanding of the search for an empathic spirit. Guest artist Sabina Zúñiga Varela is an important addition to the performance, though “addition” is the wrong word. She’s irreplaceable, and holds the weight and lightness required to be part of this Culture Clash experience.

Bordertown Now offers us a fast-paced, smart, and bold time travel. Not to miss!

Onstage May 30 – Jun 24, 2018
By Culture Clash: Ric Salinas & Herbert Sigüenza
with new material by Richard Montoya
Directed by Diane Rodriguez