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The Untold Story Of Dodger Stadium: 'Chavez Ravine' At The KDT

Savannah L. Barker |
February 5, 2015 | 7:41 p.m. PST

Theater Editor

Herbert Siguenza in Culture Clash’s “Chavez Ravine" (Photo by Craig Schwartz)
Herbert Siguenza in Culture Clash’s “Chavez Ravine" (Photo by Craig Schwartz)
Lights up. Dodger Stadium. 1981.

A kooky radio announcer narrates as Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela becomes increasingly distracted on the field. The ghosts of another generation, a generation that once built a thriving Latino community on this very land, haunts Fernando and reminds him of this important history — never to be forgotten. And so begins this vaudevillian re-telling of a dark chapter in Angelino history “Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Revival,” which opened this past Wednesday at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

Traveling through time in East Los Angeles, “Chavez Ravine” tells the forgotten story of an entire Latino community that was uprooted from their homes for what was initially going to be a low-income housing project, but what would ultimately dissolve into the construction of Dodger Stadium. The play tells this complex story through a comedic lens and a mixture of English, Spanish, and Spanglish. A stellar cast of four talented actors (Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza, Sabina Zuniga) portray a multitude of characters from a fiery young activist to a mysterious “Watchman” to J. Edgar Hoover himself.

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Directed at the Kirk Douglas by Lisa Peterson, “Chavez Ravine” was originally imagined by the Chicano performance troupe Culture Clash, whose members include actors Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza. Founded in 1984, Culture Clash has spent the last 30 years performing across the country, challenging cultural barriers, and celebrating the Latino community through sketch comedy work.

While “Chavez Ravine” deals with some very heavy material, it rarely ventures into the depressing. In fact, the show is downright hilarious, playing up its caricatures and bringing light to an otherwise dark story. Richard Montoya is undoubtedly the star comedian of the show, playing everything from a crazy old Mexican woman, to the serious L.A. Housing Authority site manager Frank Wilkinson, to the utterly hysterical “Dodger Dog Girl.” While Montoya is definitely a stand out, his fellow actors are also of an impressive caliber.

Herbert Siguenza, Richard Montoya, Sabina Zuniga Varela and Ric Salinas in Culture Clash’s “Chavez Ravine” (Photo by Craig Schwartz)
Herbert Siguenza, Richard Montoya, Sabina Zuniga Varela and Ric Salinas in Culture Clash’s “Chavez Ravine” (Photo by Craig Schwartz)
Herbert Siguenza begins as the amusing narrator of the show, but quickly interjects himself into the show’s action, interacting with the other characters on stage. Ric Salinas, another Culture Clash veteran, is also an impressive member of this cast, transforming himself into a multitude of caricatures throughout the show, most notably the awkward and nervous Norris Poulton, soon-to-be mayor of Los Angeles. Lastly there is Sabina Zuniga Varela, a USC graduate, who plays the passionate communist Maria Ruiz among other characters, bringing the often sillier tropes of the show back down to reality. A powerhouse on stage, Varela embodies the fight that remains in the hearts of those affected by Chavez Ravine and those who would continue to struggle for their recognition and protection.

One of the more understated elements of the show is the fantastic band made up of the Rodarte Brothers (Randy Rodarte and Scott Rodarte) and Vaneza Mari Calderón. At times, the band fades into the background, providing a peaceful soundscape to the action happening on stage. But at other times, the band interacts directly with the actors, serving as their own characters in the story, and adding another dimension of playfulness and community to the show.

SEE ALSO: Asking The Tough Questions: Why L.A. Theater Should Lead The Way In Diversity

As is usual of the Kirk Douglas, the set (designed by Rachel Hauck) and lighting (designed by Jose Lopez) are of the highest caliber. Simple and effectual, the production is visually successful, with the scenic design never detracting from the content of the show. “Chavez Ravine” also utilizes visual effects (designed by Jason H. Thompson), such as projections on the walls of the house, to fully immerse the audience into the world of the play and seamlessly transition the story through time and space.

To label “Chavez Ravine” a breath of fresh air is not enough to truly capture the refreshing honesty of this entertaining play. Offering a perspective that is frankly underrepresented in the theater, “Chavez Ravine” very cleverly tells not just a Latino story, but a Los Angeles story, with cultural repercussions that are still felt today. A brilliant cast, a fun script, and an impressive production, do not hesitate to plan your trip to the Kirk Douglas in Culver City before this show comes to a close.

"Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Revival" is playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City) through March 1. Tickets are $25-$65. For more information visit CenterTheatreGroup.org

Contact Theater Editor Savannah L. Barker here.

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