American Night


Jeff Thomas

Marcos Rivas Sanchez, Raina Pope, Cooper Bennett and Allegra O’Rourke perform in “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” currently playing at Burbank Auditorium at SRJC. The actors perform in multiple roles during the play.

Craig Gettman, Staff Writer

How do you tackle the issue of immigration to America in an educational, funny, moving and interesting way? You write a play about it.

“American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” written by Richard Montoya, known for his use of humor with the group Culture Clash, takes on this hot button issue. He then adds dashes of humor to its educational and intriguing script.

The plot centers around Juan José, a Mexican immigrant who escapes corruption in the police force. He wants to become an American citizen but needs to study for his citizenship test. The majority of the play highlights the events of the fever dream that Juan José has the night before the test.

This is one of those plays that seems like it’d be fun to direct or act in. It’s safe to say the cast had fun with this play, while taking the issues presented in the script seriously and staying true to the source material. Director Reed Martin selected a cast that gels well, including both hilarious and dramatic standouts.

Marcos Rivas Sanchez shines as Juan José, the hopeful, determined, honorable immigrant wishing to find a home in America for his loving wife and their new child. Throughout the play, Sanchez conveys the almost boundless optimism of the role with ease, and his range is incredible. He can go from serious to comedic in a flash, and his ability to emote is undeniable. He makes use of a typical Mexican accent throughout the play, but it’s never in poor taste, even when it’s used for comedic purposes such as when the actor mispronounces the name “Sacagawea” on purpose. Sanchez is also quite adept at physical comedy, and this lent credence to his role as an immigrant in the midst of a fever dream.

Another standout is Raina Pope, who plays the role of Juan José’s wife, Lydia, but also takes on other roles. This promising young actress did everything from a cross-gendered bit to playing Sacagawea as a bubbly, well-educated teen. Although Pope takes on many characters, you get the sense that she’s supposed to be Lydia in disguise the entire time. Someone playing this many parts has to be capable of doing so, and Pope is more than capable: she can not only act but sing well, and dance – which makes her a triple threat. It’s clear why she was chosen for her roles, as her presence in the play both lightens the mood and provides the audience with an anchor to the real world beyond the fever dream the play focuses on.

These two aren’t the only standouts. The others include Danny Banales and Allegra O’Rouke. Banales, who has a role as Teddy Roosevelt, also serves as a comic relief throughout the play, such as when he shows up as a sumo wrestler at one point. O’Rourke is hilarious as Mrs. Finney but also takes on several other characters.

The entire cast does well, and all of the actors held their own in this play, helping the audience through a somewhat chaotic plot. Although an interesting, educational and poignant play overall, there were times that “American Night” was hard to follow, especially due to a large number of characters. There were also jokes in the script where it was hard to believe the author decided to “go there.”

In the end, the play is redeemed by having an astounding cast. Under the capable direction of Reed Martin, the actors bring this informative, captivating and funny play together, and it’s easy to overlook the minor flaws. Do yourself a favor and go see it, but act fast because the play closes March 15.