Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“”Living Large in a Mini Kind of Way”

Teatro Luna, is a very special troupe. It is Chicago’s all Latina theater company now nearing 12 years of bringing Latina orientated stories to Chicago audiences. Even though there is a bit of Spanish in their productions, even us “Gringos” get the messages they have spread over these years. They have built their own house ( so to speak) at what they call Luna Central, a storefront located at 3914 N. Clark Street ( just south of Irving Park) in Wrigleyville, but their current production, a new piece, written by Diane Rodriguez, “Living Large in a Mini Kind of Way” is being presented at The Viaduct Theatre’s Mainstage. Rodriguez, who has worked with some of the finest of playwrights, including Luis Alfaro, Nilo Cruz and Migdalia Cruz, brings this experience to her new work, which she also directed.

The title does not relate what the story is all about- or should I say, stories, as there are a few. Based on a real life story, as most of the works of this troupe are, we get to view the life of several female characters and the relationships they have. Lily ( Isabel Quintero) has become a widow and lives alone in her home. She has two Mexican employees, sisters, Big Maria ( Miranda Gonzalez, who has done a lot of shows with this company). They help around her house and Big Maria also takes care of Lily’s mother. Lily has a sister, Nellie( a unique charcater played by one of my favorite actresses in town, Sandra Marquez) who is trying to stay young who is married to a Cuban musician Sammy ( played by the only male actor in this production, the always reliable Madrid St.Angelo, who also takes on the role of the spirit of her late husband Joe).

These are the characters- now for the stories! Since Joe’s death, the girls have been a great help to Lily and so she is asking them, either to come and live in her home. She is, as it turns out lonely. Lily thinks that Joe has left her well off in her fine L.A. home ( a wonderful set by Brian Sidney Bembridge), but Lily has no idea about finances or the paying of bills. In fact, the mail is tossed into grocery bags and stuffed into a closet. At the very start of the play, we see Lily, in her yard, gazing at the sky, when all of a sudden music begins to play ( almost as if on a television Novella) and the spirit of Joe take sthe stage with her, dancing her around the stage and helping her chnge to her golf jacket. This is her fantasy life. Lily doesn’t want to face reality.

Yet, this is not what the real story is about. It is about the two sisters, who have come to the United States to build a better life. Little Maria has papers; Big Maria, as it turns out does not. Her dream is for a better life for her an dher daughter, working as many jobs as she needs to so she can send money back to Mexico and build her own house to go back to, allowing her to “live Large”. Whate we find out during the story is that in order to get these jobs, she must take steps to get a socal security number, those nine precious numbers that are not available to illegals and can change their lives.

This story opens our eyes to the importance of something that we, as Americans, take for granted; the right to apply for any job instead of taking the low paying, cash paying positions, that to the illegal is the only survival tool. Lily trusts the Marias and tries to teach them how to improve their English and their lives. Nellie and Sammie would prefer that Lily not be as involved with them as they are fearful that these women will steal from Lily. When, by accident, Sammie learns that Big Maria has taken on another position with a social security card /number that is not hers, all hell breaks loose. The two Marias go at each other and many changes take place, ones that add a little mystery to the story, but one that was a little confusing ( oh well, I will let you judge for yourself on that one).

This is not your typical story about immigrants and immigration. It has many funny moments, but I would have to call this a work in progress. Ofetn, new plays written by young playwrights need more development and perhaps a little more depth to the intertwining of the charcaters and their relationships. This is a 75 minute play with no intermission, but might serve better as a 90 minute production where some of the gaps are filled in. I would like to know more about Nellie and Sammie and their relationship with Joe and Lily prior to his death. I would ike to know a little more about the Marias and how they came to be sisters with the same name and one with papers  and one without. I certainly would like more information on Little Maria’s bike ride and the phone call that Big Maria made at the same time. It might have served well for a talk back after the performance ( I know they had one at the opening) to help us understand just a bit more.

The actors are all superb, with each understanding the character they play and conveying as much as the playwright gave them to work with. As I said earlier, St.Angelo is fun to watch onstage and Marquez is always a treat ( and in this role she really shows something we don’t often see her portray, a very sexy lady). The two sisters play well off each other and Qunitero, who started off a bit slow, truly grew on me as Lily. I wanted her to find herself and go on with life- in the future, instead of dwelling on the past.

“Living Large” will continue at The Viaduct Theatre, located at 3111 N. Western Avenue ( just one block south of Belmont) through Sunday, June 17th (Father’s Day) with performances as follows:

Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 and 6 p.m.

Tickets are priced from  $12-$40 and can be ordered by calling 773-819-5862 or online at www.teatroluna.org

You can also purchase them at the door, but it is better to know you are reserved than to take a chance. There is street parking in the area ( even some non-metered) and a parking lot at the corner of Belmont and Western , south west corner is available at $5 

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