American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose

I encourage you to see American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose, not only because it was banned in Arizona, but because it is fresh, original, bursting with creativity, and important. A pageant with music, it tells the story, written by Richard Montoya, of Juan Jose, who has left his wife and child, and walked hundreds of miles from Mexico to become an American.


We meet this persistent man, played well by black-haired Rene Millan, studying for his U.S. citizenship exam. Juan falls asleep and we follow his dreams of American history, cleverly staged by director Shana Cooper, choreographer Ken Roht, scenic designer Kristen Robinson, with lighting by Mashsa Tsimring, sound by Palmer Heffernan, and projections byPaul Lieber.



Civil Rights and the loss thereof are covered in fast-paced scenes, serious and humorous; inside jokes abound. Among the many events Juan encounters is witnessing the signing of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which gave away much of Mexico's land to the U.S. Among the plethora of characters he sees is the oppressive Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Teddy Roosevelt, depicted by jolly, marvelous Richard Ruiz, a touching scene with Jackie Robinson, and the union organizer Harry Bridges, portrayed by Gregory Linington. Austin Durant, Deidrie Henry, Felicity Jones, and James Hiroyuki Liao are gifted members of the cast. There are references to New England, but they almost seem unnecessary.


As in all of these types of shows, there is so much packed into one hour and 40 minutes without intermission it is hard to remember it all. I wish I had the time to revisit American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose, which will play only through October 13. Please do so for me. At the Yale Rep.

This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts radio.

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