Tuesday October 17th 2017

“la gringa” DUE TO POPULARITY-EXTENDED January 12th-28th

lagringa-image-150x100Highly Recommended **** I love the work that many of our smaller, “storefront theater companies” do! One of the more unfamiliar companies, at least to the general theater audience, is UrbanTheater Company, where they bring powerful stories, with a Latin twist to the Humboldt Park neighborhood. The Urban Theater Company is located on PaseoBoricua- 2620 West Division Street, in the heart of The Puerto Rican Community of Chicago. How fitting that they start off their 11th season with the Chicago premiere of “la gringa”, written by Carmen Rivera. This is the longest running Spanish play ever to run off-Broadway. While it is exciting to have this play be on a Chicago stage, it is even more so, that it be on a stage IN the Humboldt Park neighborhood!

“la gringa” is a unique story about a young woman, Maria (a fine character development by Sofia Tew), a New York born girl of Puerto Rica parents, who has made the trek to Puerto Rico to meet her estranged family and find her “roots”. Maria has studied her heritage in college and while she has a fine job in Manhattan, we learn that part of the reason that she has such a wonderful position is that she is in fact “the token Puerto- Rican” for that company. This all comes out in the sharp and well written story about this girl who has an identity crisis, but one that is unique. Maria does not feel accepted by her Puerto Rican familia either. Her cousin Iris ( NK Gutierrez) cannot find work and is jealous of the fancy life her cousin Maria has had.urban2

It turns out that Maria’s mother and father left Puerto Rico and did well in New York, working long and hard hours to have everything they could not have at home. The older sister, Norma (deftly handled by Nydia Castillo) felt that her sister had abandoned the family and still holds resentment for the sister that led a better life and who owns control of the family home they all share in Puerto Rico. Her husband, Victor (Phil Camacho) still feels that the family needs to stick together. There is also a brother, one Monolo (a superb character brought to life by Frankie Davila) who at the onset of this story is bed-ridden and through the miracle of Maris and her optimistic outlook begins to heal, first himself and eventually the family.

urban5Directed to perfection by Miranda Gonzalez, who shows that the women’s touch makes this story one that feels right, this is two hours of strong story-telling and entertainment. Working in a small store-front such as this where the bathrooms are back stage and there is very little stage area, is a challenge for any director, and Ms Gonzalez accepts the challenge and then some. Her ability to keep the focus on the characters despite the intimacy of the space itself is amazing. There are several points where it almost seems that the actors may in fact, run into the audience members. They don’t! But we are kept on the edge of our seats several times as the tensions grow between the family members. There is one other character, Monchi ( Anthony De Jesus), a local farmer/family friend, who as it turns out falls in love with Maria.

I do not want to give away any of the plot or its subs and certainly will not discuss the ending which is both sad and joyous. This performance’s audience was mostly women, 90 % of them Hispanic, probably most of which were Puerto Ricans (based on the neighborhood); but there is a difference heritage and identity. A Puerto Rican woman, born and raised in New York or Chicago- is she an American? or a Puerto Rican? When she goes back to visit her people in P.R., is she accepted as a Puerto  Rican, or in fact, a “gringa” (white woman)? What Maria learns from her Uncle is that identity is not really based on where you are born or raised, but in fact, what you feel in your heart and soul. This is a touching story that can be told in other ethnicities as well, but Spanish is how it was written and portrayed and it works to perfection. There is a bit of Spanish in the show, but the English story-telling is very effective and while the sets(Caswell James) are simple, they help to bring the story to reality. The sound (Antonio Bruno), and lighting (Andrew Lehmkuhl) as well as the props (Sara Carranza) and costumes (Shawn Quinlan) all add to making this show feel real!urban4

“la gringa” will continue at Urban Theater located at 2620 West Division Street thru December 11th with performances as follows:                              EXTENDED   January 12th-28th

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  7:30 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Tickets $15 (walk-up, $20) so to pre-order, call 312-767-8821 or visit http://urbantheaterchicago.org

metered parking on the street (no meters on Sunday- a gift from the City of Chicago)

urbanOn Thursdays and Sundays, Urban Theater has some special promotions-

Teatro Thursdays are partnerships with local businesses and features a $30 dinner/theater package with local area restuarants- presently La Havana Café, 2525 West Division (I reviewed this dining sot several months ago-aroundthetownchicago.com- restaurants. The other “partner” is on Sundays, as they offer Sunday Brunch N’ Play at Nellie’s at 2458 West Division where $30 gets a brunch an the show. If you are seeking a theatrical adventure, make UrbanTheater the place to see a marvelous show and meet a neighborhood of Chicago you may not know!

 

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “La gringa”.

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