Water & Power

Review by Willard Manus

The theatre troupe Culture Clash, famed for its Chicano-flavored comedy sketches, has in recent years moved into drama, notably with Chavez Ravine (seen at the Taper three years ago). Now the troupe has mounted, also at the Taper, its darkest, grimmest work to date, WATER & POWER. Written by Richard Montoya (without the help of his usual collaborators, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza), the play is a mixture of noir, politics, Chicano history and mythology laced with topical jokes and jibes.

At the heart of the messy, profane, overblown but mostly engrossing play are two brothers, supposed twins (not believable, given that Montoya is half the size of Siguenza), who were dubbed Water and Power by their Mexican immigrant father, Ascuncion (Winston J. Rocha), who not only worked as a laborer for the Department of Water & Power, but fervently believed they were the engines that drove Los Angeles forward. The men who controlled those "turbines" were the ones who rose to the top, became local kingpins.

Ascuncion also tried to instill in his sons a macho code of honor, courage and respect for each other (and for their "back ups," their compadres). The code is tested when the play opens and Power, a corrupt, cocaine-sniffing police lieutenant on the verge of a nervous breakdown, is holed up in a dingy Sunset Blvd. motel, hiding from his enemies in the Mexican Mafia. Water, a slick, successful state senator, feels obliged, out of family loyalty, to try and save his slightly younger twin brother, even though the effort could cost him his political career.

The other key characters are Norte/Sur (Salinas), a paralyzed

ex-con turned street-smart poet/philosopher; The Fixer (Dakin Matthews), the rich, cynical businessman/politico who runs L.A. with much savage glee; and Deer Dancer (Moises Arias), a boy out of a Mayan fable who prances around with antelope horns on his head. Sounds ridiculous and contrived, but Arias (and Montoya the playwright) manage to bring the plot off with reasonable success (and power).

Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Avenue. (213) 628-2772)