Friday October 20th 2017

“Freedom,NY”

How do people react when tragedy strikes their town? How, can it be, in this day and age, that people still have fears of people just because they are different? Most of us, have grown up with preconceived ideas about other races and religious beliefs. Most of this is just what we have been told by older generations, and rather than learn the facts, we just go along with the racial profiling that has been carried on by our elders for generations. In 2001, we all began to learn more about profiling and stereotypes. Over Theyears since that fatal date, many Americans have acted differently towards anyone who appears to be Muslim, Egyptian, Indian or Pakistani ( often not knowing who is who and from where they really come). The other side of this coin is the Mexican community. Many judge ALL Latinos as border jumpers who are coming to America to take away jobs, when in fact, those who come to our United States are coming here for the same reasons that many of our ancestors came here; a better life, better education and freedom to live a happy life.

The latest play produced by Teatro Vista, Chicago’s largest Latino Equity theater company, “Freedom,NY” is a smart, detailed story that deals with some of the prejudices that can become an obstacle in the life of the immigrant who makes the trip from Mexico with other hidden agendas within the sharply scripted play by Jennifer Barclay. This World Premiere production, directed by Joe Minoso is less than an hour and a half of pure story telling that deals with trust, joy and race relations. It all takes place in the back yards of two homes in a small town, Freedom, in New York State. One year earlier, a brutal shooting took place at the school, killing several children. The town, Justice of The Peace, Justice Mayflower ( a powerful character study by the always reliable Cheryl Lynn Bruce) who resides in one of these homes with her 12 year old granddaughter, Portia ( a delightful and sincere portrayal by Paige Collins) has decided to keep Portia away from the school and all of her friends as despite the capture of this monster, there is a belief by the town that he did not act alone and that his accomplice is still lurking in the area.

Her new next door neighbor, Gabriel ( smartly played by award winning,Desmin Borges, who, in this role, shows just how versatile an actor he is), a Mexican , who has been hired as the janitor at the school scares her. First of all, the indications are that this town might be prejudice against the Latino community. Justice Mayflower and Portia are African Americans and although we never see any of the other townspeople, it might be safe to assume that they are all African Americans, but at least, it is safe to say that there are no Latinos in this town. Portia and her grandmother spend time in their lovely garden when not studying. As the story progresses, Portia finds that Gabriel is a nice man who cares about his family and has come to Freedom for a new life for him and his mother ( who we late find out is deceased). His garden is not flowers, but a rather large hole that he has dug and around the cemetery plot like hole, skulls and candles. Gabriel is preparing for Dia de Los Muertas ( The Day Of The Dead), a Mexican tradition where the souls of those come back to allow you to remember them and show them that you still care for them.

Portia, it turns out was a witness to the shooting and those that were killed her friends. Her grandmother has kept her sheltered from the school and away for any memories of what took place as well as some of her own history involving the departure of her father an dthen her mother leaving grandma to raise her as her only family. There are some other secrets between grandma and her daughter ( Portia’s mom, who she thinks cannot be found). Meanwhile the town is fearful that this new neighbor, this outsider, may just be involved in the events of a year ago, and as Gabriel spends more time with Portia, grandma feels the need to keep them apart. In fact, she erects a fence between their property to keep them apart. Comes the day of the Dead, Gabriel convinces Portia that life goes on, even after tragedy and that by remembering her friends and celebrating their lives, she will have the ability to face he rown life again and go back to school and to living a normal existence. As the curtain falls ( in reality there is no curtain, the lights dim) we see a  more vibrant Portia, a young girl ready to face her existence and go forward .

This play is a “Think Piece”. A story that will cause one to think about how we treat others, ones that are not like us. Is this little girl safe from the outside world by being in her home and yard, away from the people of her community? Can her grandmother, who evidently made some of her own mistakes, truly protect her from making some of the same errors in judgement that her mother made? This is a wonderful experience and yes, all will not agree, but I found it to be a treasure of  thought provoking emotions- tender and heartwarming characters who make us care.

The set by Regina Garcia is divine. Understand that the venue for this production is the very intimate  Theater Wit building on Belmont and withlimited space Ms Garcia has designed two homes, back to back that are as different as the characters who reside in them. Mac Vaughey’s lighing and Andrew Wheatley’s sound all bring it together and a tip of the hat to Caitlin Laingen for her marvelous props. “Freedom,NY” will continue at Theater Wit through June 12th with performances as follows:

Thursday,Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $25 ( $20 students and seniors) a great value for theater of this quality and can be purchased at the box office located at 1229 W. Belmont, by phone at 773-975-8150 or online at www.teatrovista.org

There is some street parking in the area ( some metered, some not) and there is parking at Cooper’s Restaurant directly across the street, a great place to start your evening with a small bite or a meal and a great value as well.

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