16th October – Discussion of Richard Montoya’s American Night: The Ballad of Juan José (Yale Rep)


This week we were privileged to be joined by Lauren Dubowski, MFA candidate in Dramaturgy and Production Dramaturg for American Night. Here Lauren shares her response to the PSWG discussion.

2 thoughts on “16th October – Discussion of Richard Montoya’s American Night: The Ballad of Juan José (Yale Rep)

  1. Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful conversation on Tuesday! I continue to be struck by the variety of reactions I hear to Richard’s play and our production. I found your reactions, insights, and questions valuable, and I would love to continue our discussion here.

    Here are some threads we started and could pick up on (and new ones are of course welcome):

    • Race and gender re: the play’s 81 characters played by 9 actors
    • Reactions to specific scenes — town hall, final number, etc.
    • The larger meaning, impact, context of the play and/or production
    • Thoughts about design — this production, other possibilities
    • Connections between Richard’s work and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, others

    I’d also like to offer a few selections from the script that may help jog our thinking as well:

    • “Let’s see here … a black cowboy, a Mexican revolutionary, and a white Klan judge all walk into a saloon. There’s a joke in there somewhere … hell, I don’t know where it is.” — Ben Pettus, husband of Viola Pettus, the self-taught African-American nurse in the West Texas scene

    • “What is Juan José?” — Hop Ling, the “African, and Jewish, and Chino” trail cook in the Lewis & Clark scene. “I’m in between countries right now … but mañana, I be something, I hope!” — Juan José

    • “Mr. Kishi … not adorable stereotype. Mr. Kishi … yakuza! Yakuza with haiku for Juan José-san: Crying child need not same as crying child want. Better to join both.” — Mr. Kishi, Japanese fisherman in Manzanar scene

    Here is some further information about Richard Montoya’s work:

    • “Richard Montoya: 25 Years of Laughing About Race” on NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111893905
    • His manifesto delivered at Radar L.A. last year: http://www.howlround.com/a-manifesto-by-richard-montoya/
    • “Richard Montoya’s (Re)Readings of the Chicano/a” by Grzegorz Welizarowicz in MIS(READING) AMERICA, ed. Durczak and Frelik (Universitas, Kraków, 2011) — email me if you’d like a PDF copy of this.

    Finally, I am writing about the functions of humor in AMERICAN NIGHT for my comic theory class this semester. If anyone happens to have suggestions for readings in performance studies that might be helpful, I’d love to know of them.

    Thank you again!


  2. Gemstones and Road Kill: A Note on Found Objects

    Lapidaries find gems but work them into tchotchkes—kitsch. Scavengers find carrion. Artists, including Jack Smith and Richard Montoya, find objects. In found art, as in kitsch and carrion, abjection is also big, at least since Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). “If nobody wants it,” Smith offered, “come to me” (qtd. Wiet, 10/16).

    It did.

    Normal Love (1963), lit by sparklers, fetishizes “repurposed discarded objects” (Morrison, 10/16), producing a “material excess of sign matter” (Cooper, 10/16)

    The Yale Rep’s American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, lit by Lekos, likewise repurposes discarded objects, producing a material excess of sign matter. For Montoya, the objects are human beings, or the signs of human beings, got up in ethnic drag. But for Montoya, love is truly “normal.” Only wholesome stereotypes of abjection—the fat señora, the nurturing Mammy, the picaro protagonist—every one of them focus-group tested through the regional repertory combine, need apply.


    Milan Kundera, defining kitsch as something quite different from abjection, has the answer. “Kitsch,” he said, “is the complete absence of shit.”

    If nobody wants it, kill it on the road.

    –Joe Roach

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