JUST IN CASE you still believe in a "United States," go visit Miami. Or better yet, check out Radio Mambo, the 1996 show by the Latino theater troupe Culture Clash, which is visiting the Seattle Rep. This show reveals that in a city like Miami, the idea of a united culture and a melting-pot welcome for all races is simply not a reality.
Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami
Seattle Repertory Theater, ends May 23
Based on a series of video interviews with a wide variety of Miamians, Radio Mambo aims to deliver an overview of the city from as many different perspectives as possible. Drag queens, Jewish retirees, Haitian immigrants, right-wing former Cubans, Anglo gallery owners, and young African-American men in a police lineup all give their viewpoints on a city undergoing massive social and economic upheaval. The resulting cacophony is given an euphonic structure by this energetic trio, who mix serious social commentary with comic sketches.
Perhaps because of the show's direction from Roger Guenveur Smith (whose brilliant solo show A Huey P. Newton Story came to Seattle two years ago), the political analysis of the show is much more pointed than the humor. In fact, the comedy is the evening's greatest weakness, relying too much on double (and single) entendres and corny sight gags that are an uncomfortable fit with the sophisticated intelligence the rest of the show demonstrates. After watching the actors bop unconvincingly around as drag queens early on, it's a shock to see how detailed and subtle they can be when portraying (for example) two elderly African-American women discussing the forgotten black history of the city.
Along with the violence and conflict revealed in this theatrical snapshot is an astonishing vitality and an openness to discussing race, politics, and culture that those of us in mostly white, mostly bland Seattle can almost envy. While the quality of life in Miami might be questionable, the quality of the material that Culture Clash has mined from it is not.