Now in its second year, the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival continues this weekend with the midwest premiere of An American Odyssey by the California-based performance trio Culture Clash. This program of character monologues is written and performed by Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Sigüenza, who founded Culture Clash in San Francisco's Mission district on May 5 (Cinco de Mayo), 1984.
The three men started the group "out of need," says Sigüenza. "We were all stage actors in the Bay area, and there were no roles for us. Auditions were few and far between." In 1990, encouraged by the response to their satirical shows, they relocated to Los Angeles to break into TV. But "every time we flirted with Hollywood we always went back to the theater," says Sigüenza, who is also playwright in residence at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. "That was where we could be free and do what we wanted. We consider ourselves playwrights and actors, not comedians."
Culture Clash-whose influences range from the San Francisco Mime Troupe and El Teatro Campesino to Monty Python-for the most part eschews partisan politics in its work. "Right now it's really difficult to do satire," says Sigüenza. "You can't make fun of [the current political scene] because it's not funny. It's already grotesque and surreal. . . . Our show is really about the immigrant, the unheard voices of America that you don't see in the mass media. . . . We're not hammering [the audience's] head with ideology. We always show two sides of the story. I think that's important. You've got to make everyone equal. We offend equally." v