There’s a scene near the end of Albany Park Theater Project’s Homecoming (the company’s first live show since the pandemic began) where the cast sings “With a Little Help From My Friends.” That’s about where I wished I, like the audience members seated across from me, had remembered to bring tissues.
Sure, music is designed to hit us in the emotional solar plexus. And sure, seeing a multiethnic group of young performers come back from an enforced hiatus with such grace and soul was bound to make me feel soppy. But this show, featuring a quartet of “greatest hits” from past APTP ensemble-devised shows (2003’s Aquí Estoy, 2010’s Feast, 2012’s Home/Land, and 2000’s Motives for Not Drowning) works at multiple levels as it explores universal human connections between heart and head, past and future, dreams and the daily grind.
Through 7/23: Wed-Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 3:30 and 8 PM, Eugene Field Park, 5100 N. Ridgeway, aptpchicago.org, choose your price ($35 suggested); many performances sold out, but a waiting list is available.
Directed by Miguel Angel Rodriguez, Devika Ranjan, Maggie Popadiak, and APTP cofounder David Feiner, with 21 actors playing multiple roles as well as singing and playing instruments, the show explores the experiences of jornaleros in the neighborhood seeking day work in construction; the thrill of shopping at Aldi after the LINK card arrives; the danger of traveling from Honduras through Mexico to the U.S.; and the importance of dedicated teachers in helping us find our voices and determination. All the stories were collected from the community by past ensemble members.
There is a sad irony threaded through the experiences of immigrants who risk everything riding atop “La Bestia,” or “El Tren de la Muerte” (the dangerous freight train running from Central America through Mexico) for their families, only to find themselves drifting away from those families in “el Norte.” In “Luca Rivera vs. the United States of America,” a young boxer (Ari Salgado) fights many opponents within and without his family: his father’s homophobia that results in him losing his home; the loss of his beloved mother from cancer, probably caused by her work in a dangerous plastics factory; the United States government that refuses to protect him and others who came to the U.S. as children from deportation. By joining the DREAMers in protest, he realizes that he is “undocumented and unafraid,” and he also tells us, “I am here to keep my mother from disappearing.”
The earliest piece excerpted here, “Mr. Edwards” from Motives for Not Drowning, is a tribute to the late James Edwards, a music teacher at Albany Park’s Haugan Elementary School and conductor of the acclaimed Chicago Public Schools All-City Elementary Youth Chorus, who died in 1996 (long before this current ensemble was born) at age 45 from leukemia. There’s an undeniable echo of Mr. Holland’s Opus, To Sir, with Love, and many other stories of tough-but-caring teachers who opened students to possibilities they hadn’t imagined for themselves yet. But as with everything else in this 80-minute collage celebrating everyday lives, “Mr. Edwards” is so rooted in specific details, so adept at unwinding the vulnerabilities of both youth and adults, that we feel as if we knew him.
The pandemic shutdown was cataclysmic for students and artists. It’s so nice to be able to celebrate a Homecoming of hope and joy and resistance with APTP.