If you don't like your walking peace symbol to be a slightly bewildered pot-smoking goofball (John Fleck) who, during an entirely gratuitous interlude, leads the crowd in a ditty that literally sings the praises of masturbation ("It felt so nice, I did it twice"), look elsewhere. Low comedy doesn't come any lower than this: huge balloon phalluses poking out from tunics, or bashing audience members as the characters parade through the crowd. We're talking Aristophanes here the child prodigy class-clown playwright of ancient Greece (the "class" may be overstated) who loathed corrupt authority figures almost as much as Molière would a couple of millennia later. We're also talking Culture Clash, the Latino sketch comedy trio (Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza) Montoya penned this adaptation of Aristophanes' Peace with his compatriots who sprung from Bay Area standup clubs with a then unique brand of politically charged humor, a much ruder, cruder prelude to Jon Stewart, both politically correct and incorrect in the same breath, filled with indignation over rudimentary violations of civil rights and civil liberties. The blending of ruthless parody with self-confident and at times simple interpretations of Right and Wrong has proven to be a rare, sustaining formula, and it's on full display here, under Bill Rauch's animated and often whimsical staging. Trygaeus, or Ty Dye (Fleck), ventures to heaven on a "dung beetle" to free Peace (a statue) from lockup in Heaven. A noise neighbor diva (Amy Hill) turns in a very big cameo. Montoya, in one of Shigeru Yaji's many stunning costumes and Lynn Jeffries' puppet masks that somehow re-proportion the human body) plays the war machine, a thug who tries to stifle Ty Dye's efforts at every pass. Heaven is, of course, the Getty Villa Museum, directly behind the amphitheater stage, also decorated with free-rolling Yoga balls, and a huge portable mound of pop culture (or poop culture) detritus referred to as a "shit pile." (Set by Christopher Acebo). There's a joke for every corner of the region, from Montebello to Malibu, and Montoyoa has reconfigured the play's finale so that Aristophanes' happy ending with a marriage gets tossed for the visit of a sweet, silent child, who faces down War. The update is a fine idea, particularly as the sheer energy of the hijinx start to wear down. Yet it takes us no further than the classic Vietnam War photograph of a female Hippie protestor facing down a National Guard bayonet with a daisy. And that was at least four American wars ago. If war is so bad, why do we love it so much? To trace the warring impulse to father issues, as this adaptation does, keeps the show enshrined in the same pop psychology that it mocks so well throughout. The production is beautifully accompanied by the femme-trio mariachi band, Las Colibri. Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through October 3. (310) 440-7300.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Sept. 10. Continues through Oct. 3, 2009