Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Pace, Pace, Mio Dio

September 19, 2009

 
Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya of Culture Clash
Photo: Craig Schwartz/Getty Trust 2009

Who would have ever thought that the Getty Villa would become one of the most well-regarded theater locales in Los Angeles. But it’s true. Four years into the effort to present Greek and Roman theatrical works as part of the larger programming mission of the Getty Villa, the Getty Trust continues to put on exceedingly well thought out productions of works one isn’t too likely to see staged anywhere else. In addition, their taste in collaborators is superb. This year’s model featured Aristophanes’ Peace in a broad adaptation from local theater collective Culture Clash and John Glore. The Getty Villa has preferred to alternate dramas and comedies from year to year given that their "season" is limited to one production with about 12 performances a year in their outdoor amphitheater.

The match between Culture Clash and Peace couldn't be a better one. The story concerns a farmer, played by the excellent John Fleck, who scorns Zeus over the continual plague of war on humanity. Soon he goes on a quest to Olympus to free the Goddess of Peace who is being held captive by the God of War and return her to the earth. Aristophanes' comedy is base and a crowd pleaser in a lowest-common-denominator way. Glore and the members of Culture Clash have attempted to maintain as much of the low brow humor as they can get away with since contemporary audiences might have a lot of trouble with everything in the original. Still, there are oodles of jokes about penis size, defecation, gay sex, and the like. The good news is that it is also very funny. It helps that the three members of Culture Clash have a keen eye for contemporary social satire, and aren't afraid to drag in material that might be a little close for comfort for the hand that feeds. One of the central characters in the play, the Chorus Leader played by Amy Hill, is based on the mentally unstable Getty Villa neighbor who has waged a war against the Villa and its theatrical productions over the last two years by blasting music from her nearby home during performances. (Oh the sacrifices one must endure to live in Malibu!) The neighbor character enters at the rear of the amphitheater midway through the play in an effort to disrupt the proceedings making direct references to the actors in last year's production of Agamemnon. Soon however, the cast of Peace entice her into helping them out on their journey to rid the world of war.

The neighbors aren't the only target. Culture Clash goes after Michael Jackson, Gustavo Dudamel, various L.A. neighborhoods, and even the Villa itself. In perhaps the most hysterical bit in the play, the farmer has "rescued" the marble statue representing the Goddess of Peace and brought her to earth. Once there, he is accosted by Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas dressed as Chico and Harpo Marx acting as an Italian delegation who has come to repatriate the statue away from the Getty Villa. Later on Richard Montoya poses as KCRW's own Michael Silverblatt who interviews Aristophanes himself on a segment of "Bookworm."

It's all great fun even if everyone did have to listen to music being blasted from the home of some neighbor again this year. And for those of you keeping score at home, if this production is any marker, next year's collaboration between Culture Clash and the resident artists of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival should be worth seeing. The festival's director, Bill Rauch, directed Peace and has welcomed Culture Clash to Ashland, OR next year with a new work on themes related to American History and culture. In the meantime, we have the very enjoyable Peace out in Malibu. There are still eight performances left through October 3.

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