For its Westside Connections series, L.A. Chamber Orchestra welcomes Culture Clash satirist Richard Montoya for a musical reading on April 3
By Michael Aushenker
How’s this for a culture clash? A full-blown orchestra sweeping through a reading delivered by playwright/comedian Richard Montoya.
The strange bedfellows unite on April 3 when the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra welcomes guest artist Montoya — one-third of the Chicano theatrical troupe Culture Clash — to read excerpts from Culture Clash’s lauded 2003 play, “Chavez Ravine,” over a soundtrack provided by the orchestra at New Roads school in Santa Monica.
The event is part of the orchestra’s Westside Connections series, which last month featured violinist Arnold Steinhardt and in May features actor John Rubinstein.
Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Sigüenza founded Culture Clash nearly three decades ago in San Francisco’s Mission District, along with José Antonio Burciaga, Marga Gómez and Monica Palacios. In fact, this coming Cinco de Mayo will mark the satirical theatrical group’s 30th anniversary.
Montoya’s solo plays have included “American Night,” a scathing assessment of the United States’ immigration crisis commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the 2006 Chicano noir tale “Water & Power,” which Montoya has now adapted into a film, due out May 2.
Like the unrelated but identically titled Grammy-winning Ry Cooder album released two years later, Culture Clash’s 2003 play “Chavez Ravine” told the story of the thousands of indigent Angelenos, most of them of Latin descent, displaced by the creation of Dodgers Stadium.
Frank Wilkinson, a progressive who acted as the assistant director of the city Housing Authority and tried to implement a public housing project called Elysian Park Heights, was targeted as a Communist and turned into a straw man in a scheme to clear the Chavez Ravine section of Los Angeles of its residents in order to build the baseball venue in 1959 According to Montoya, musician Cooder caught Culture Clash’s “Chavez Ravine” four times before releasing his Grammy-winning 2005 album. Montoya said, half-joking, “Yeah, I would‘ve loved it if we were mentioned in the liner notes.”
But Montoya harbors no ill will.
“When I finally ran into Ry, I held out my hand and thanked him,” he said.
Montoya said he never lost sight of the bigger picture: the story of the squashing of Wilkinson’s plans for affordable housing, designed by Modernist architect Richard Neutra, to Chavez Ravine — “a story just waiting to be told,” he said.
Prior to Wilkinson’s death in 2006 death, Culture Clash invited him to performances of their “Chavez Ravine” play at the Bootleg Theater and the Mark Taper Forum.
“To see Latino kids give him a standing ovation was amazing,” Montoya said.
The orchestra’s April 3 program to accompany Montoya’s reading includes Revueltas’ String Quartet No. 4, “Musica de Feria”; Chavez’s Trio for Harp, Flute and Viola and Sonatina for Violin and Piano; and Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12, “American.”
The writer-performer — who is dedicating the show in memory of his father, Jose E. Montoya, and to his toddler son, Mountain Montoya — endorses this epic orchestral music treatment.
“I feel the subject matter is deserving,” Montoya said. “The Chavez Ravine ghosts will not go away, whether it’s Ry Cooder or [Culture Clash’s] Mark Taper play. Something will be revealed to us.”
The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 3, in the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater at New Roads School, 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica. $50. Call (213) 622-7001 or visit laco.org.