Campo Santos’ ‘River’ flows a litle too freely

Courtesy PhotoLakin Valdez

Courtesy PhotoLakin Valdez

Playwright (and acclaimed Culture Clash writer-performer) Richard Montoya wrote “The River” for the small, intrepid company Campo Santo, where it is having its world premiere.

More specifically, Montoya and Campo Santo’s Sean San Jose collaborated on the project, with the memory of Campo Santo co-founder-actor Luis Saguar, who died in 2009, in mind.

The ghost of that gentle soul hovers over the poetic, boisterous and sometimes surreal comedy by way of its central figure, an only briefly seen Mexican man, Luis (Brian Rivera), who leaves his hometown sweetheart (Anna Maria Luera) to seek a river on the California-Mexico border.

On the journey he dies, and his body is discovered in a cave on a mountain by a pair of hyped-up hikers who have lost their way: a gringo (Christopher Ward White) who majored in hip-hop in college, and his gay lover, a Latino man (Lakin Valdez).

Other characters who eventually converge on the mountaintop in Montoya’s loving and inclusive exploration of our culturally diverse state: Crow, the self-proclaimed “world’s worst Indian,” in a feathered top hat (a goofy and hilarious portrayal by Michael Torres); a hipster-raconteur of sorts called Brother Ballard (a funny, motor-mouthed Donald E. Lacey), who claims he used to be a dramaturg; a forest ranger (a wonderfully sarcastic, take-charge Nora el Samahy); and a philosophical Japanese-American (Randall Nakano).

But maybe only the dead Luis was exactly who he claimed to be — the others, in an amusingly cathartic scene near the end, feel compelled to confess who they really are.

Guitarist Steve Boss, in Day of the Dead skeletal makeup, accompanies the action quite beautifully; the original score is by Charlie Gurke.

The two acts are packed with dense text, antic behavior (ritual copulation of a corpse, anyone?) and enough insider jokes (including references to the Bay Area nonprofit theater scene, Campo Santo the Mission district and more) to boggle the mind.

But amid the broad comic characterizations, the lyrical codas about love and loss and the commentary on everything from gentrification to racism to homophobia to environmental issues, it’s sometimes hard to figure out what’s going on, plotwise.

Plus San Jose directs at such a fever (and a high-decibel) pitch that the quiet, more meditative moments are too few and far between.

Montoya, San Jose and the cast pour boundless, and open-hearted, energy into this embarrassment of riches — but at this stage of development it’s too long and too unfocused.

 

The River: Presented by Campo Santo

  • Where: Costume Shop, ?1117 Market St., S.F.
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
  • Tickets: $25 to $35
  • Contact: (415) 626-2787, ext. 109, www.theintersection.org

artsCampo SantoentertainmentSean San Jose

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs spoke to San Francisco’s new Guaranteed Income Advisory Group on April 16. (Courtesy SFGOV)
City launches task force to explore Universal Basic Income programs

San Francisco on Friday launched a guaranteed income task force that could… Continue reading

Muni’s K-Ingleside line will return six months earlier than previously announced. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
K-Ingleside train to return on May 15

Announcement comes on the heels of pressure from Supervisor Myrna Melgar

Demonstrators march from Mission High School towards the San Francisco Police station on Valencia Street. (Jordi Molina/ Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Vigil, march honors those killed by police

Deaths of Daunte Wright, Roger Allen and others prompt renewed calls for defunding

A Recology employee stands at the comapany’s recycling facility on Pier 96 in 2016. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)
Nuru scandal: Feds charge second former Recology executive with bribery

A second former Recology executive is facing charges for allegedly bribing ex-Public… Continue reading

Skier Andy Padlo crosses a frozen Spicer Reservoir. (Courtesy photo)
Stormy weather tests skiers’ mettle on Dardanelle traverse

Overcoming challenges makes outings more rewarding

Most Read