The appeal of The Federal Jazz Project, a sometimes-thrilling collaboration between Culture Clash co-founder Richard Montoya and the sublime trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, is its likeness to jazz itself. Bebopping the line between script and improvisation, this new work directed by the San Diego Rep’s Sam Woodhouse thrives on its thoughtful changes in mood and tone, and on its anticipation and surprise. The resultant experience is an ambitious cross between theater and jazz cabaret, and other than possibly biting off more storyline than it can chew, The Federal Jazz Project is a stirring success.
Narratively, The Federal Jazz Project tells concurrent tales: the dramas and antics in and around a south-of-Broadway nightclub in San Diego, from the late ‘20s to the present, and the intertwined but individually troubled identities of San Diego and Tijuana. The commentary and the comedy come from Montoya, who mixes biting and eloquent poetry with a little shtick. The heartbeat of the show, either aching or pulsating, comes from Castellanos and his stalwart sidemen. The jazz jams carry you away, but not totally from the play, which includes dynamic performances from Lorraine Castellanos as “San Diego” and Claudia Gomez as “Tijuana.” The Rep should be rightfully proud of this exciting production.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.