Denver Center Theatre Company artistic director Kent Thompson traditionally injects each season with at least one offering grown from Latino roots. This year, the niche is represented by American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, a contemporary show from Richard Montoya and the long-lived, California-based Chicano comedy group Culture Clash. Originally created as a commission for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Denver production, directed by Sam Woodhouse of the San Diego Repertory Theatre, opens tonight in Ricketson Theatre with a cast of nine channeling 45 characters who, in Woodhouses words, look like America in the 21st century. Think of it as a kind of regionally focused Bill and Ted journey through American history, fraught with roadblocks and surprises.
The piece is the story of one man, Juan José, who lives in Mexico and finds his family threatened by violence by the drug cartels, Woodhouse explains. So he walks to America, singing all the way, to become an American citizen and find his own version of the American dream. Once there, Juan José falls asleep preparing for his citizenship exam. He has a spirit-dream encounter, Woodhouse continues, in which he meets scores of well-known, significant figures in American history. As is the case with all dreams, his journey is extraordinary: a whirlwind banquet of ideas, politics, satire, comedy and dreams in 95 minutes. And that sounds like the makings of a sprawling adventure far bigger than the physical stage upon which it plays out.
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American Night continues daily except Mondays through November 20 at the Ricketson, located in the Denver Performing Arts Complex; for tickets, $35 to $57, visit www.denvercenter.org or call 303-893-4100.
Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 1:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. Starts: Oct. 7. Continues through Nov. 20, 2011