On Stage in Natomas: American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose

Juan Jose advising Lewis Clark while Sacagawea looks on. / Photo: S. Thomas

Juan Jose advising Lewis Clark while Sacagawea looks on. / Photo: S. Thomas

Juan Jose being tested for his U.S. citizenship while Harry Bridges and Jackie Robinson look on. / Photo: S. Thomas

Juan Jose being tested for his U.S. citizenship while Harry Bridges and Jackie Robinson look on. / Photo: S. Thomas

BY TRINA DROTAR
THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

THE The Natomas Charter School Performing and Fine Arts Academy tackles another provocative and timely subject in Richard Montoya’s satiric play, American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose, which opens today, Nov. 12 and runs through Friday, Nov. 20.

Alejandro Magallán portrays Juan Jose, an immigrant from Mexico studying for his citizenship exam. When the exhausted Jose falls asleep, a fantastic E-ticket ride through history begins. Encounters with Teddy Roosevelt, Hare Krishnas, Ku Klux Klan, and folks like Viola and Ben in Marathon, Texas during the 1918 influenza outbreak teach him about history and humanity. When Jose cannot locate Viola and Ben in his American history handbook, he writes them in.

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Juan Jose finds himself on a game show trying to win his citizenship. / Photo: S. Thomas

Juan Jose finds himself on a game show trying to win his citizenship. / Photo: S. Thomas

Along the history-dream road, Jose encounters a mix of famous, infamous and regular folks who show him the many sides of America and its people. Jackie Robinson, Woody Guthrie, Harry Bridges, Sacajawea and Lewis and Clark are among those he encounters and even advises. He finds himself in the Manzanar Internment Camp in 1942 and meets an array of people with their own stories. When Jose finds himself in the midst of the Mexican-American War, he must decide whether to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

With nearly 80 characters, each of the 24 actors had to portray as many as 6 characters during the single act performance which finishes under 90 minutes. Devin DeGeyter did a fabulous job playing three distinctly different characters (Man in Robe, Harry Bridges and Lincoln). Justin Raphael Abua’s portrayal of Johnny and Game Show Host were excellent and challenged this young actor. Yvonne Barnett stood out in her portrayal of Viola as did Jordan Davis as Ben and Jesus.

According to director Rick Gott, he and a group of students first saw American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose in Ashland, Oregon. Playwright Richard Montoya does not usually allow high schools the rights to perform the play, so Natomas is fortunate to have this show.

Gott said that working with Montoya was a great experience and that changes were made to include Bernie Sanders and live music by student soundscape designers Gino Videche and Joshua Wisterman. When Gott told Montoya that one of the students (Willie Huggins IV) does a great Obama impersonation, Montoya provided additional Obama jokes.

“This is not the traditional dish,” said Gott. “This is satire, very much up front with political, the issue of immigration, but it’s handled with humor and it’s not vindictive. It’s about the humanity of the situation.”

Tickets are available for pre-purchase online at a reduced rate ($10 – $12) or at the box office on the day of the show ($15 – $17). Shows are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Nov. 12, 13, 14, 19, and 20 and a matinee is scheduled for on Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.


The Benvenuti Performing Arts Center is located at 4600 Blackrock Drive, Sacramento, CA 95835. For more information, see www.benarts.org.

Juan Jose's encounter with Teddy Roosevelt. / Photo: S. Thomas

Juan Jose’s encounter with Teddy Roosevelt. / Photo: S. Thomas

Juan Jose explaining to the tutors why he wants U.S. citizenship. / Photo: S. Thomas

Juan Jose explaining to the tutors why he wants U.S. citizenship. / Photo: S. Thomas