Too often we take for granted the gifts we are given at birth, the ability to see and hear, walk and talk, gifts for which there is no price tag. It is also easy to take our citizenship for granted. As a privilege of birth, we don’t always give appropriate appreciation for what is presented to us without work or effort. Not so, Juan Jose, an immigrant from Mexico, who wants passionately to earn and claim his nation as the United States. He burns with patriotism, he beams with promise, he blossoms with hope.
Until Saturday, October 13, the Yale Repertory Theatre will present “American Night The Ballad of Juan Jose” by Richard Montoya at its University Theatre, 222 York Street, New Haven. To say this unique theatrical experience is irreverently inventive, wonderfully wacky and cleverly crazy will give you a small hint to its scope and impact.
Rene Millan is Juan Jose in all his simplicity and complexity, his eagerness to learn and become a
U. S. citizen and provide for his wife and new son. Millan beautifully captures the essence of his character as he completes a journey, not just across the border from Mexico, but along a time travel packed with historical hallucinations that are hysterical and heartbreaking.
With the ring of truth at the base of his American timeline, playwright Montoya, who also portrays Juan’s grandfather, uses historical facts to frame the immigrant’s travels. Juan journeys through wars and treaties, epidemics and relocation camps, encounters with Mormons, civil rights workers, drug dealers and, along the way, meets everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Ben Franklin to Jackie Robinson.
Montoya is nothing if not topical, with references to Nike sneakers, Mohegan Sun Casino, Google, Mitt Romney and even “Fifty Shades of Grey.” He also provides a refreshing lemon ice on the way as he tries to reunite Juan with his faithful wife Lydia (Nicole Shalhoub). You may need a literary GPS to navigate the landscape but it is well worth the effort. This comedy, developed by Culture Clash and Jo Bonney, is directed with skill by Shana Cooper and a talented cast, that includes Austin Durant, Felicity Jones, James Hiroyuki Liao, Gregory Linington, Deidrie Henry and Richard Ruiz, on and behind the stage.
For tickets ($20-96), call the Yale Rep at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and selected Wednesdays.
Hop aboard the train to truth with Juan Jose as he crams all the history of America into his head and heart in his quest for citizenship.