Skeletons On The Stage | “Vote or Die Laughing” @ VPAC

Vote or Die Laughing (VPAC)userpic=ucla-csunIt wasn’t what I expected. In some ways, I was a pez fuera del agua.

Perhaps I should explain. When I booked our Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)’s mini-season, there was a show a week before election day called Vote or Die Laughing by a group called Culture Clash. I thought it was another group like The Capitol Steps, and we would have an evening of politically themed comedy.

I was wrong. I was right. I’m so confused. I should have looked at the subtitle. We really did have a “post-modern political vaudeville”.

The comedy group Culture Clash, consisting of Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Sigüenza, were the glue for the evening, which was part political commentary, part a celebration of Dia de los Muertos, and part a celebration of Latino culture and arts. In between various comedy pieces — both live and taped — from Culture Clash, there was standup comedy, dance, music, and celebration, all with a distinctly power to la raza political vibes, although they were officially bi-partisan. Not.

As a result, the unexpected surprise was a delightful evening, even though I only understood about 90% of it.

The acts in the political vaudeville were as follows:

Culture Clash. This was a comedy group that arose out of San Francisco that had both pointed and dated political comedy. I think the most timely piece was a “Election Jeopardy” pitting Trump against Clinton against Tarzan, whose only answers were Cheech and Chong. This played on the stereotypes of Trump and Clinton, with Clinton knowing loads of facts on Latino history, and Trump knowing precious little. Other comedy segments included a taped version of “American Border Gladiators”, and a Paleta Man number which touched upon references that I (a white Jew) did not pick up on. There was also a touching piece by Ric Salinas on when he got shot, and a recorded piece from their TV show when Lalo Guerrero sang about there being no Hispanics on TV. Alas, that’s still true.

Stand Up Comedy. There were two stand up comedienne’s, one in each act. In the first act was Marga Gomez, who was a founding member of Culture Clash. The second act was Cristela Alonzo. Both were very funny.

Dance. The first act included two dance performances from Pacifico Dance Company: one number titled Calacas Clandestinas and the other Popurri de Chilenas. It was a delight to watch.

Music. The main music for the show was provided by the group Buyepongo, who performed in both acts. It is hard to describe Buyepongo, other than engergetic eclectic latin music. We really enjoyed them, and picked up their latest album.

Also performing, at the top of Act II, was La Santa Cecilia, who did three or four numbers. They were spectacular, especially when their lead vocalist, La Marisoul, did one song without amplification — demonstrating both the power of her voice and the power of the acoustics at VPAC.

There was also a number from Richard Montoya with Michael Roth and the Atzlan Underground that focused on #BlackLivesMatter. Very moving words and images, although not my style of music.

As you can see, it really was an eclectic mix of an evening, and not what I expected. I enjoyed the dance and music, got about 80% of the jokes, and truly felt that the evening wasn’t aimed at me. That’s fine. I enjoyed seeing and learning about another culture. that is so important here in the southland.

Plus, I used to live a stone’s throw from Pacoima, so perhaps by osmosis….

Here’s the review from The LA Times. They remembered a bit more than I did, including these fantastic puppets of Trump and Hillary that accompanied the dancers.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB).  The Chromolume 2017 season looks particularly good: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  This weekend brings Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Nottingham Festival (FB). We then lose a weekend as we travel to Palo Alto for a Bar Mitzvah. The third weekend of November brings Funny Girl, a Conundrum Theatre Company (FB) guest production at  The Colony Theatre (FB) and a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]. November concludes with a HOLD date for Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. December starts with Into the Woods at Nobel Middle School, and staged concert of Wonderful Town being performed by the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. The next week brings the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The third week of December brings  The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). December concludes with an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January currently is quiet, with just a single hold date for Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). February 2017 gets back to being busy: with a hold for Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.