Juan Jose leads a feisty cast through one very funny American Night at La Jolla Playhouse


By Diana Saenger /


Fans of the iconic Culture Clash – the prolific Chicano/Latino performance troupe – rarely are disappointed with their productions. That value is more than upheld in the La Jolla Playhouse’s production of their latest script “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José.” Developed by Culture Clash and Jo Bonney, directed by Bonney and written by Richard Montoya, the hilarious and insightful show is a co-production with Center Theatre Group, and originally commissioned and produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF).

The plot centers on Juan José, artfully portrayed by San Diego native René Millán. Juan is a policeman in Mexico who is being pressured to accept dirty money to cover up criminal acts. Worried what will happen to him and his wife Lydia (Stephanie Beatriz) if he does, he crosses the border illegally and pursues becoming a citizen. The evening before his test for citizenship, Juan spends the entire night in one continuous dream through American history that’s played out in various amusing and clever scenarios by this excellent cast.

The road trip, seen through the eyes of this young Mexican who knows about history only from what he’s hurriedly read in a book, is also an open question about how immigrants change our country and it them.

Montoya (“Water & Power,” “Palestine New Mexico,” “Anthems,” “The River”) is an excellent playwright who paints his characters with broad stokes and can write dialogue so profound it’s unforgettable, but also so zany it’s hard to catch a breath from laughing. He can also step inside those characters with the ease of putting a hand in a glove.

The cast will continue in the show when it opens at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre, March 9-April 11. They are equally impressive in their multiple roles. Stephanie Beatriz, Rodney Gardiner, David Kelly, Terri McMahon, Millán, Kimberly Scott, Herbert Siguenza and Daisuke Tsuji play Lewis and Clark, Mormon women and men, Mexican War officials, Japanese interment camp refugees, Sacagawea, Jackie Robinson, Sumo wrestlers and more.

If you go

What: “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José”

When: Matinees, evenings through Feb. 25

Where: Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse

2910 La Jolla Village Drive, campus UCSD

Tickets: From $35.

Box Office: (858) 550-1010