By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Glore says that this project’s biggest departure from other Culture Clash shows is that Montoya is flying solo as its writer. It’s also the darkest show from a troupe known for decorating serious ideas with cross-dressing and other sketch-comedy gags. Montoya’s early impulse was to attach the story to the scandals around LAPD’s Rampart Division. “It didn’t take him long to realize that would handcuff him,” Glore says.
Knowing how many jokes to include, and how they serve the story and affect the tone, has been one of the daunting challenges of the development process.
“Richard’s process is one of throwing everything on the page and then whittling it away,” says Glore. “The first draft was 180 pages and would have played three hours. Though structurally, it’s had the same general shape all along.”
The play’s main story takes place on a stormy night in contemporary L.A. A prologue by an angel named Norte/Sur (Ric Salinas), a paraplegic vatoin a wheelchair, introduces us to “the dark house,” a seedy room in the Paradise Motel. In that room, the twin brothers Water and Power crash into each other.
Water (Montoya) is a senator who's just received a text message that his rogue-cop brother, Power (Herbert Siguenza), is in trouble. The senator, in a shiny suit and with a BlackBerry that rings through the night (he’s lobbying for passage of a clean-air/green-space bill for East L.A. that’s up for a vote the next day), stumbles into the room from the rain to discover his hulking, bloodstained sibling deranged from tequila and cocaine, lounging on a bed that’s draped in assault weapons and items removed from city storage.
“Do not remove from Evidence Room,” the senator reads out loud from one of the packages, before remarking, “This would be a big minus.”
“It’s okay, as long as you bring it back,” the cop replies. “It’s like Netflix down there.”
In flashbacks, the brothers’ father (Winston J. Rocha) reminds the boys — both played by 12-year-oldMoises Arias — that they were born “between the thunder and the lightning.”
Through waves of poeticism, cracks about local politicos and tart sarcasm, the story of brotherly love unfolds — part noir thriller, part Greek tragedy: two brothers trying to save each other from the abyss of realpolitik, men who are opposites and complements, and who, in tandem, symbolize the engine that drives city politics.
A defining image is from the funeral of Miguel Contreras, the L.A. County Federation of Labor leader whose burial, like that of Cesar Chavez before him, had janitors, field hands and corporate executives standing side by side in respect. Such respect inspires the senator, who finds his own actions falling short of social principles that he learned from his father.
Power will have nothing to do with such sentimentality: “Fuck the little guy. Fuck Cesar Chavez. Fuck Dad,” he taunts his brother in a moment of bluster.
Alluding to corruption scandals across the state, Montoya says his play sounds a note of caution for the new Latino power base in Los Angeles. (See accompanying article, “A $4 Million Misunderstanding,” on the Los Angeles Theater Center.)
With the exception of child actor Arias, the actors each play only one role — unlike in Chavez Ravine, where multiple role-playing added to the hilarity. And though Water & Poweremploys Montoya’s prodigious knowledge of local and state politics (Montoya and Siguenza were both given appointments as city commissioners by Mayor Villaraigosa), this is not a docudrama built on anthropological and historical research, as were Zorroand Chavez Ravine.Rather, Water & Poweris a serious-hearted fiction sprung somewhat from newspaper articles that have appeared in the past 15 months but mostly from the depths of Montoya’s personal experiences and his careening, buoyant imagination.
Michael Ritchie’s play-development philosophy has either evolved or become more clearly articulated since he took considerable heatfor dismantling the Taper’s minority playwriting labs (including a lab for the disabled) two years ago, shortly after taking over CTG from the retiring Gordon Davidson. At that time, Ritchie complained that the in-house labs weren’t turning out producible plays, while those labs’ directors argued that generating plays was never the primary purpose.
Unlike Davidson, Ritchie hasn’t the temperament for the meandering and often fruitless process of new-play development. “Gordon is a director with a gift for helping bring plays to the page,” Ritchie told the Weekly.“I’m a producer with three theaters to program [the Taper, the Ahmanson and the Kirk Douglas]. I have to get plays to the stage.”
Ritchie says he’s reluctant to commission or develop a play unless he has serious plans to produce it.
With his hardball do-it-or-dump-it philosophy, Ritchie has shifted the Taper’s emphasis away from such lab programs that wait to harvest a producible fourth play after a writer-in-residence has submitted three undoable ones.
“Sometimes you have to give resources to artistic support,” Ritchie explains. “But at the Taper, there’s been a shift in the amount of resources that go toward that leg of development.” To put it more bluntly, he’d prefer that playwrights leave the building until they bring in something he can imagine producing.