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Stage review

Humor with heart in Culture Clash’s ‘Muse & Morros’

Paul Marotta

Near the start of “Muse & Morros,’’ there’s a bit illustrating how people of various ethnicities and nationalities tackle the challenges and expressive possibilities of salsa dancing.

While it’s very entertaining, the scene also subtly establishes what proves to be an underlying message of this big-hearted sketch show by Culture Clash, a veteran Chicano-Latino troupe: Our differences notwithstanding, we’re all in this together. We’re all trying to master some tricky steps.

Now at the Paramount Center’s Jackie Liebergott Black Box in a production presented by ArtsEmerson, “Muse & Morros’’ stars Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza. Also featured is Claudia Gomez, portraying the mysterious “Muse’’ with a Mona Lisa smile who inspires the creative outpouring. (Gomez also choreographed the show.)


At its best, “Muse & Morros’’ reclaims the idea of multiculturalism from the realm of academic jargon, showing us what a truly United States might look like. Amplifying the voices of Latinos — a fast-growing population in the US whose experiences are not much represented onstage — is clearly central to the mission of the troupe.

There’s a downside to the swift, headlong pace of “Muse & Morros.’’ Certain sketches could be more sharply written and more fully developed. When the script’s inspiration falters, the vivid personalities and performance styles of Montoya, Salinas, and Siguenza help carry the production. The trio shifts in and out of character with impressive skill and speed.

The show delivers tough-minded commentary about such issues as the mass incarceration of African-Americans and this nation’s treatment of Mexican immigrants and others who are too often relegated to the margins or the shadows. One sketch focuses on the sexual abuse of children by Boston-area priests and explores the possibility of forgiveness as a step toward healing.

But there is plenty of humor. “Muse & Morros’’ takes jabs at the tendency of white people to assume that Jesus was white (“It’s an impossibility!’’ cries a preacher portrayed by Siguenza), at House Speaker John Boehner’s curiously orange pallor, and even at “Tristan & Yseult,’’ a production that closed Sunday at ArtsEmerson.


True to its name, Culture Clash has some fun with the collision of cultures, as in a sketch involving an overweening Vietnamese-American youth (played by Montoya) who fancies himself as on the cutting edge of hip-hop style and attitude. Other sketches revolve around interactions between immigrants and their adoptive country, underscoring the challenges of retaining cultural authenticity while adapting to a new home.

In one sketch, a Muslim cab driver portrayed by Montoya is asked by a hostile passenger if he is related to Osama bin Laden. In that moment, the driver says, “I feel less than a human being.’’ The tone switches to rueful humor as he describes the cultural challenges of fatherhood: “There is nothing in the Koran about raising an American teenager.’’ In another sketch, a Salvadoran immigrant played by Salinas talks about the violent conflict he experienced with African-American classmates in his Washington, D.C., high school, before he came to realize how much the two populations had in common. “We are in the same boat,’’ he says.

The scope of “Muse & Morros’’ is suggested early on in a sketch that focuses on a transgender health educator from Cuba, portrayed by Siguenza, who works with drug users and HIV-positive clients. Endowed with depth, dignity, and a sense of playfulness and candor, Siguenza’s character fits right in with the enveloping, broadly defined sense of community that distinguishes “Muse & Morros.’’


Don Aucoin can be reached at