Saturday December 16th 2017

“St. Jude” Up close and Personal

I have now seen all three of the Up Close and Personal Series productions at Victory Gardens Theater. The third, “St. Jude” , written and performed by Luis Alfaro, like the others, “Where Did We Sit On The Bus” and  “A Little Bit Not Normal”, are one person shows that take us into a part of the playwright/performer’s personal life. Alfaro’s “St. Jude” is a powerful, and somewhat religious look at as a man deals with the illness and ultimate passing of his father. During this 80 or so minutes, we are taken back to his youth, his family relationships, his personal relationships and his dealings with the Lord.

The production is very different from the previous two. Prior to the start, Alfaro seeks out audience members to do readings. There are six or seven that are given assignments and I must say they took it very seriously. Some stood when called upon, others remained in their seats, but, they all projected and gave meaning and feeling to their individual readings. Getting audience involvement is a nice touch. The show opens with the windows uncovered allowing the sunlight from Lincoln Avenue to sweep into the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens. Mr. Alfaro, casually makes the typical announcements about cell phones, eating candy, photos and the likes, but the “house” lights do not go off. At the back of the stage, there is a screen, and from time to time, we are shown slides of scenes that relate to the story being told.

We learn of the life of this Mexican and his very religious family and upbringing. His father, an 80- year- old, hard- working Mexican, who still plays “futbol”, has had a stroke and he is on his way to the hospital.  The hospital is in Central California, where he grew up and was raised, bringing him memories of his youth- picking fruit, to his serving as an Alter-Boy, his Gospel-Tent visits and his family. Being of the Jewish faith, much of the religious material that the audience was asked to join in on was lost on me (and a few others in attendance). Most of this was songs from The St. Jude Hymn Sheet. We also were asked to give an “Amen” after each “Halalluah”.

His story-telling technique was a bit different from the previous shows and he had a notebook where he periodically turned pages at the lectern. Was that real? Or just for Affect? I liked him and wanted his story to be funnier as I truly see him as a comedian. His dramatic segments were strong but as a “Gringo”, I would have liked the Spanish speeches to be shown on the screen in English. Let’s face it, the screen is already there. Why take us out of the story when it is almost completed?

This production, St. Jude” will play at the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens, second floor at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue thru June 4th with performances

June 1st  7:30 p.m.

June  2nd   7:30 p.m.

June 3rd  7:30 p.m.

June 4th  3 p.m.

Tickets for this open seating production are  $20 and can be bought at the box office, by calling 773-871-3000 or online at www.victorygardens.org

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

Carol Moore’s review also appears below . This will give you two looks.

Recommended **** “St. Jude” is the third play in Victory Gardens’ Up Close and Personal Series.  As he drives down Highway 55, Luis Alfaro reflects on his childhood in California’s Central Valley.  St. Jude is the name of a hospital important to the Alfaro family.  Alfaro uses humor, music and audience participation in his poignant tribute to his father.  4 Spotlights

Before he really gets started, Alfaro encourages the audience to say “Amen” any time he says “Alleluia”, practicing until our response got his approval.  Although the story isn’t particularly religious, Alfaro used the refrains from several well-known hymns as segues in his story, encouraging the audience to sing along to “Do Lord”, “Come By Here (Kumbaya)”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “I Saw the Light”, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, “This Little Light of Mine”, “Wade in the Water” and “Oh, How I Love Jesus”.

Alfaro is spending a lot of time at St. Jude because his father has had a stroke.  He talked a lot about his father who was a soccer player throughout his life.  Alfaro had encouraged his father to have difficult cardiac surgery which the son thought would improve his quality of life.  Now that his father is dying from the stroke, he wonders if he did the right thing.

When Alfaro said, “first reading” a man in the audience stood and read a page of narrative.  There were eight more readings by pre-selected members of the audience.

Some of Alfaro’s anecdotes:

  • Picking grapes – his parents tried to convince him that was a fun thing to do during school breaks.
  • One of his parents was a Pentecostal, the other a Catholic – so on Saturday night he went to Pentecostal services, Sunday mornings to Catholic Mass.
  • He never accepted Jesus, never spoke in tongues. At a tent revival meeting, he remembered a preacher chanting “Jesus, Jesus” over him as he was whispering “Satan, Satan”!
  • He had an uncle who had PTSC after Viet Nam. One day, his uncle held his head underwater, to the point he nearly drowned.
  • His father always brought a homeless man to Christmas dinner with the family.
  • We’re Mexicans not Mexicants.

 

 

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