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it would be hard to name a group who had chosen
a more apt name or a more illustrious vehicle for the concept than their current offering,
Water & Power.
For anyone unfamiliar with Culture Clash, the three Latinos who comprise the
ensemble, Ric Salinas, Richard Montoya, and Herbert Siguenza, came together as a
performance art group almost 22 years ago. They
played small clubs in the San Francisco Bay area with their act of political satire,
stand-up comedy, and social commentary rooted in the idea of Chicano Power. Moving to Los Angeles in 1992 their sights broadened and
they began to incorporate experiences from beyond the barrio, appealing to a larger and
more diverse audience and exploring the invisible boundary between the barrio culture and
the world outside it.
Water & Power is anything but. A modern tragedy laced with an eye and ear for humor, actor/author Richard Montoya brings to the stage the generally fast-paced story of a pair of Chicano twins, Gilbert (Montoya) and Gabriel Garcia (Herbert Siguenza) raised in the barrio to lead very different lives. As children, their father (Winston J. Rocha) shown in flashbacks labeled them Water and Power. Gil was Water; identified and cultivated to be the smart one, he grew up to become a lawyer, then a prosecutor, and finally State Senator. Gabe was given the nick name of Power; he was to be tough and physically protective of his brother. He became a cop. Their father, an employee of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, set one against the other to sharpen their respective skills, to prepare them for the brutal world outside. It was a rugged, but effective, way of channeling sibling rivalry while strengthening sibling ties. It established each of the twins as an individual if not exactly equal in the eyes of the world.
Power (Gabe) has killed a man while off duty. Gil comes to his rescue pulling out all the influence at his disposal. Gil finds himself more of a homeboy than his official persona would suggest, pulled into the worlds of corruption that exist on either side of the invisible boundary. Comedy becomes tragedy, but the brothers protect each others' backs, still ready to go to the mat with one another, but acting as their brothers keeper against the outside world.
As is true of several of their previous productions, Water & Power is a site-specific drama. The references to local politicians, landmarks, and neighborhoods are many, making it hard to imagine Water & Power playing anywhere else. For example, a Chicana Los Angeles County Supervisor is referred to simply as Gloria: shes from
In the flashback sequences Moises Arias plays each of the twins as a child. He is also the Deer Dancer, a figure from local Indian tradition whose dance is connected to constant presence of death and who periodically makes an appearance with a rack of horns symbolically on his head. Young Arias does an exceptional job of portraying each of the twins personalities as well as executing the dance with lightness and boyish grace. Ric Salinas is Norte/Sur, a paraplegic homeboy who has become a brother to Gabe, navigating the thin line between the world of gangs and the world of the police in his wheelchair. It is a tightrope that Gabe, the cop, also must navigate. Dakin Matthews, The Fixer, does a delicious turn as the ruthless, successful developer from the affluent Westside dangling his price for saving brother Gabe before high minded Senator Gil. The tugs to both sides of Gils identity are palpable.
Played with out an intermission, the last few scenes turn dark as befits the story, but the pace seems to wander and focus is lost, leaving the feeling that the play is ending several times before the lights actually go down.
Culture clash is a real phenomena. It occurs within a person, within an organization, and on the streets. Culture Clash, the group, brings insight and levity to the issue without trivialization. Each of the ensembles productions is unique, while the underlying issues remain constant. It is tough to be an outsider, and not so glorious on the inside either. Breaking free is not necessarily the goal as Latinos now become part of the power structure. While presented as the issues from the Chicano experience, they are not difficult issues to generalize to all minorities.
August 6, 2006 - Karen Weinstein