Surviving the challenges of entertainment as a playwright is a continuous journey and one playwright and actor Richard Montoya and his theatrical troupe Culture Clash has mastered for 25 years. Montoya’s newest play, “Water & Power” artfully combines the group’s renown comedy with poignant themes of family bonds and politics. “Water & Power” runs at the San Diego Repertory Theatre through Nov. 16.
In the Los Angeles hotbed of life, movies and crime, two brothers have chosen different careers that ultimately bring them together to face the dilemmas in their lives. Gilbert Garcia, aka Water (Richard Trujillo) is a Senator about to pass “career” bill. One that will bring extraordinary “green” changes to L.A. and put many feathers in his political hat.
Gilbert’s twin brother Gabriel Garcia, aka Power (Herbert Siguenza), is a police officer who is sliding from grace. Water finds Power holed up in a two-bit hotel room filled with guns and cocaine. After a brotherly fist fight, the two settle down to discuss Power’s trouble and maybe a way out.
Although Culture Clash cut its teeth on the group’s cabaret-style comedy routines, Montoya was drawn to the themes of noir-style thrillers such as “Chinatown” and also wanted to explore family dynamics.
His characters were given the names of Water and Power by their father.
“You can’t have water without power, or power without water,” Montoya explained. “And the play is really the journey of father and sons and the beauty and devastation of that relationship. Dads can be helping with one hand and impeding with the other.”
This thought is explored in the play through short scenes that flashback to when the brothers were small (played by Marc Alexander Gonzalez) and counseled by their father (John R. Padilla). The background explains the dynamics the father played in convincing the brothers that one was more advanced than the other.
When Power reveals that he wrongly shot someone and that policemen are now on their way to get him, Water is momentarily stunned. But he quickly assures Power he can pull some strings, never realizing what that favor might cost him.
Power, not sure of this, counsels with his only true friend, Sur (Bobby Plasencia), a young man whom Power actually shot and is now in a wheelchair. Sur is a mix of personalities, acting as a watchdog of approaching danger to Power one moment and writing thoughtful observations and making sketches in his notebook the next. Water distrusts him, and the two butt heads from the moment they meet, furthering the divide between the brothers.
I had some problems with the mix of comedy and the graveness of the story. The dramatic moments seemed lessened when a comedic line would be thrown in, especially since the play is rewritten in whatever town it’s in to include local references. When lines that mention doing something at San Diego State or local hangouts are interfaced with Sur, Power and Water being in Los Angeles, it felt cutesy and kept pulling me out of the drama of the story.
The play’s exceptional cast, however, would rein me back in. Siguenza, one of the founding members of Culture Clash, offers a compelling character as Power, a man bound by an honor that places everything he vows in jeopardy.
Trujillo, who has many professional credits to his name, is a real asset as Water. His tormenting responsibly to his brother perpetuated as a youth by his father, is clearly a contributing factor to the angst of the play. Bobby Plasencia is also noteworthy as the intriguing man in the wheelchair. The only other actor in the all-male play is noted stage and film star Mike Genovese who plays “The Fixer.”