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Herbert Siguenza Interprets Molière at the Rep

The Chicano writer and actor known for reinventing classics takes us back to California’s early history in his next show


Herbert Siguenza | Photo: Daren Scott

Herbert Siguenza has portrayed Picasso, Abbie Hoffman in the afterlife, and Fausto in El Henry, an apocalyptic deconstruction of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I. He’s inspired by rebels and change makers, not only as an actor but as a playwright and artist. Since 1984, when he, Richard Montoya, and Ric Salinas launched the performance group Culture Clash in San Francisco’s Mission District, Siguenza has been telling the stories of Chicanos with humor and passion, raising the profile of Chicano artists and activists, and fighting back against the politics of fear and misinformation.

“We started during the Reagan years, and we thought those were bad,” says Siguenza, now an artist in residence at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. “In many ways, things have gotten worse in 32 years. Everybody is feeling attacked.”

With that in mind and a divisive presidential election season under way, Siguenza is preparing to open his latest play at the Rep, a loose adaptation of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid called Manifest Destinitis, premiering September 15.

“This play is really about early California, when it was run by Mexicans and Spaniards,” he explains. “This was before the Americans came in, and in a matter of three years, from 1847 to 1850, California was in a war and the Gold Rush happened. That was a huge culture shock.” Uncle Sam’s land grab at the time was “gentrification on steroids,” only the beginning of what we have today.

Whether as a playwright, performer, or in the political cartoons he draws once a week and posts on Facebook, Siguenza vows to be “relentless” with his messages: “I try to let people know the truth that I see. I have not changed my style since I began theater. I’ve never grown up.”

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