EXCEPT FOR SOME BLAND, GOOD-NATURED shtick tailored for Seattle Repertory Theater audiences, Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami aims squarely at the tangled ruminations of the art dealers, Cuban refugees, hardened criminals, and other denizens of Florida's multicultural hotbed. Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza (L.A.'s gifted Chicano troupe Culture Clash) were commissioned to create a city portrait; using excerpts from 70 interviews--and the talents of director Roger Guenveur Smith--they've done just that. Program notes compare the troupe's work with Anna Deveare Smith's, but their style (unlike Smith's creeping, quiet force) is as broad as the outlines of Siguenza's map-of-Miami set design.

One of the best sketches, featuring a married couple who run a demolition company, highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of this approach. Thriving from the devastation of Hurricane Andrew and oblivious to the irony, Todd and Francis prattle on like wind-up toys, feeding each other lines, finishing each other's sentences, and ignoring each other's racial slurs. The precise presentation of their rhythms is hysterical; Siguenza and Salinas navigate it with a fluid ease. The bit is abetted, though, by the presence of Montoya portraying himself as interviewer. After a particularly embarrassing social gaffe is caught on tape, Montoya assuages the couple's concerns when he says, "Don't worry, we won't use any of this." It's a sly, amusing comment for our benefit, but it's an aesthetic nudge we don't need, as is the pre-interview set-up that has Todd being serviced while watching Scarface.

These little extra winks get laughs, but really only serve to make us think we're better than the interviewed people, rather than cause us to reflect, à la Deveare Smith, on our culpability. The sketch is one of many that begins as a literal representation of dialogue, but ends feeling almost too padded with a conceit that lessens its urgency; you can feel where the reality ends and the authors' intent begins.

Still, these guys are funny. The comic force and vocal prowess on display are worth the price of admission alone (Montoya does an astonishing take on an African American hard-timer, for example), and the material simmers with a sharp awareness of where the lines are drawn in racial and social politics (when was the last time you saw a pro-Castro piece of theater?). Radio Mambo is an uneasy but welcome attempt to mesh wide appeal with political expression.

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