Sara Carranza directs the world premiere of Guadalís Del Carmen’s play about gentrification in Humboldt Park. On the stretch of Division Street between the distinctive steel Puerto Rican flags, a store owner struggles to pay his property taxes, a local alderman must balance the needs of longtime residents and newcomers, a real estate agent tries to present himself as lifting up the place he grew up rather than just being another opportunist as many suspect, a young white couple moves in and tries to remake the block to suit themselves without considering what’s already there, and young activists try to push back with strident slogans but few substantive ideas to keep the neighborhood theirs.
Things come to a head as the annual Puerto Rican Festival approaches. What some call noise, others call a celebration. Is there any way for these people to live together, and will the neighborhood retain any of its ethnic character if they manage to agree?
This is a story that plays out in cities all over America, and Del Carmen doesn’t necessarily provide any new insights or offer many solutions. But by presenting each of the forces in the conflict with humor and empathy, she allows the audience to see where everyone is coming from rather than hammering home a single dogmatic point of view above all others. It takes a near-fatal heart attack and string of vandalism for former enemies to become allies. I don’t know if I entirely bought the hopeful coda, but I appreciate Del Carmen’s optimism nonetheless. v