Tuesday December 12th 2017

“Our Holiday Stories”

As we drive along the highways of Chicago, every once in awhile we see the billboards that advertise the city of Berwyn, a growing mixed community just south of Oak Park. They claim to be the best value for a home and schools with just being minutes away from the “Loop” area. They have more than just great values on real estate, good schools and some fine dining spots- they have some strong theater! Thanks to Artistic Director of The 16th Street Theater, Ann Filmer, the North Berwyn Park District brings wonderful live theater to this growing and bustling community. The theater, located in the lower level of the Berwyn Cultural Center ( where other offices and community functions take place) a tiny intimate, yet comfortable space has become one of Chicago’s top theaters. Their purpose is to foster cultural enrichment and education for all of those who reside in their community, using topics and plays filled with diverse works and writers. They have been doing a great job with this and not only for their local residents, but for the entire Chicagoland area. In other words, you don’t have to live in Berwyn to enjoy the fine work they bring to you at an affordable ticket price ( and free parking).

The holiday season is upon us, creeping up fast, and while most  of the area theaters do the usual standards for the season, 16Th Street Theater has come up with a surprisingly delightful 85 minutes of quality story-telling called “our Holiday Stories”. This production is made up of three stories that are done as a reading with three actresses and one actor. Each of the ladies has a story to tell and yet they all take on other roles in the other stories. All of the stories deal with the “Holiday Season”, starting with the first,”Over The Hill and Into The Woods” written by Elizabeth Berg. The over the hill part of the title is growing older and into the woods is facing a future that you did fear, but no longer do. Patricia Donegan portrays Helen in this story about aging and guilt trips. Helen is having her two daughters to her home for Thanksgiving through Christmas. One daughter is married with children, the other single. Her husband Earl ( Richard Henzel as all of the men in these stories truly shows his versatility as a character actor) is the typical yes dear hubby and although he shows some defiance to Helen, underneath it all we can see the love and devotion he has for her. These are the holidays and tension can raise to new heights as we come together as a family, even if we no longer feel as if we have anything left to give. In the case of Helen and Earl, we still see the love, not just of the season, but in solidarity.

The second story,”Ramadan Moon” is written by Rohina Malik and involves the Holy month of Ramadan, the 30 days of the new moon. Safa ( a strong portrayal by Kirsten D’Aurelio ( who is also solid in the other characters she plays in the other two stories) is a mother of three children. The first two, very healthy, the third with many health problems. All of the doctors show no hope for this girl, but the desire to make this child’s life whole brings Malik’s own life experience to the stage. Ramadan, a time of fasting and healing ( the mind and spirit) allows for three ten day periods- mercy, forgiveness and salvation from the fire. In this story as Safa searches for answers and attempts every hope and possible cure there is, we see her hope as she asks Allah for mercy and forgives those who have left her side because they cannot deal with the illness and then we see the daughter improve to at least have some life 9 for now). What more can one ask out of a Holiday/Holy Day work? The other cast members partake in this one as well, each taking on strikingly different types of roles than in the others.

The third story is called “Our Good Night” written by one of Chicago’s top playwrights, Tanya Saracho and tells us the story of a young Mexican-Chicagoan who heads back to her border town for Christmas with her mother and friend.The daughter ( deftly handled by Yadira Correa, in wha is probably her most dramatic role) is unhappy with having to visit her mother as it brings up some sorrowful memories of her sister who left and has not been heard of since. While the daughter is unhappy about coming home, it turns out that life in the big city is no better at all. On this trip, she faces her true  self and her desperation to want a better life. As we travel with her on this course we meet her best friend Olga ( another great character by D;Aurelio), an old boyfriend- the one that got away (Richard henzel. As I said he handles it all)) and his wife ( Donegan, who also plays Mother) and hear all of her reasons as to why this was a bad choice. Along the way, her eyes open up to her mother’s love for her and family and that her mother also cares about the daughter who ran from this home and during a beautiful and sincere scene between the two, they find resolution to how to make it through this Christmas and plan for the next!

All three of these powerful stories, although done as “readers theater” are directed by Filmer, who knows how to make the pieces fit and interprets these stories with a keen eye. She moves the actors around the stage between stories allowing for a slight break in the action and for the audience to restart their focus and not confuse any of the characters from one story to another.The lighting effects (Mac Vaughey) and sound(Barry Bennett) are the icing on the cake for this wonderful evening of hope, faith and resolve as written by three wonderful women and performed by three dynamic actresses and one glorious actor. You now have a reason to “visit Berwyn” or “Explore Berwyn” or whatever the marketing people tell you to do- the trip is one that will be dear to you for many years to come.

“Stories” will continue through December 4th at The 16th Street Theater located at 6420 West 16th Street ( 4 blocks west of Austin) and just blocks south of the Austin exit of the Eisenhower.

Performances are as follows”

Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 5 and 8 p.m. and there will be a Sunday performance at 3 p.m. on the 4th Closing day.

Tickets are a mere $18 ( in Hebrew, this is called Chai, which means LIFE, how fitting for this play that we hear a positive from yet another ethnicity).Student “rush” tickets are only $10 but only on day of the show.

To order your tickets, visit the North  Berwyn Park District office at 1619 Wesley, call 708-795-6704 or visit www.16thstreettheater.org

 

 

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