By Diana Saenger
San Diego native René Millán returns to take the lead in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” Jan. 27-Feb 26 in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre on the campus of UCSD. Directed by Jo Bonney and written by Richard Montoya with Culture Clash, “American Night,” a comedic satire, is a co-production with Center Theatre Group and was originally commissioned and produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF).
“American Night: The Ballad of Juan José” is about a young family man hoping to become a U.S. citizen until the pressures of accomplishing that feat make him think twice. Millán (“Don Quixote,” Broadway’s “The Wild Party”), who has performed at OSF since 2005, said he found everything about the script appealing and grabbed the role of Juan in the original production.
“When I heard this play was the first play of the ‘American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle’ by the OSF, I was excited,” Millán said. “I’m a huge fan of history; it was my major at the University of Redlands. I was also thrilled that it was part of Culture Clash, as I’ve always wanted to work with Richard, Rick and Herb.”
Millán feels this is his story, too. He grew up in Logan Heights, Barrio Logan, and his parents and four brothers still live here. He attended the University of San Diego High School, waited tables at Brockton Villa at the Cove, and began acting at the San Diego REP Theatre and in two San Diego Opera productions. He did his undergrad work at the University of Redlands and then earned his master’s degree in acting at the University of Washington.
“I went to that school to focus on the Tadashi Suzuki actor training program, but I always thought, if acting didn’t work out I could teach,” Millán said. “I had a real sense of pride to earn a master’s degree as a Latino. The role of Juan touches my heart because I’m a first-generation American and grew up with emigrants in Logan Heights. I heard their stories, and like Juan in this play, they were just trying to better themselves and make things better for their families.”
As the script moves along, the night before Juan must take the U.S. nationalization test he’s pouring over the 100 flash cards and the citizen almanac booklet given him to study. He’s under pressure to get his wife and child out of the dangerous situations in Mexico.
“He’s feverously cramming and nervous about not passing the exam and he falls asleep,” Millán said. “Then he begins to dream and finds himself caught up in different events in American history. Some are good, but others are quite ugly. He begins to question if he wants to even become a citizen and if he should go back to Mexico.”
The cast includes: Stephanie Beatriz (Lydia/Ensemble); Rodney Gardiner (Ben Pettus/Ensemble); David Kelly (Harry Bridges/Ensemble); Terri McMahon (Mrs. Finney/Ensemble); Culture Clash founder/member Richard Montoya (Juan José the First/Ensemble); Kimberly Scott (Viola Pettus/Ensemble); Culture Clash founder/member Herbert Siguenza (Neil Diamante/Ensemble) and Daisuke Tsuji (Johnny/Ensemble).
If you go
What: “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José” from
When: Matinees, evenings Jan. 27–Feb. 26
Where: La Jolla Playhouse’s Potiker Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, USCD
Tickets: From $35
Box Office: (858) 550-1010