Highly Recommended **** As I entered the theater known as American Theater Company, on the walls there were old maps of the city indicating areas where “public housing” was located. These “homes” were also called “the Project(s)”, and these complexes were the homes to many poor Chicagoans. Granted, these were “people of color”, and that is why P J Paparelli and Joshua Jaeger began what became their project to bring us the inside story of the buildings known as “the Project(s)”.
For five years, these men took the time to meet with and interview more than 100 former residents of these units and those involved with the actual buildings, running of them and even the politicians who helped to build and run them. Many young Chicagoans are not even aware of some of the areas where these buildings were, as the city has undergone some major changes. These were named Wentworth Gardens, Ida B. Welles, Cabrini Green and other names, but they were all designed to give poor people a place to live. At least that was the promise that the politicians made to the people.
In reality, these were a form of segregation that put the unemployed, very poor African-Americans into areas where they would be controlled , at least to a point. The Cabrini Green was one of the last to go,and I recall, as a suburbanite, people saying when you drive into the city, and along Division Street, from the highway East, make sure you lock your doors before you get to Halsted. That was a DANGER Spot. This was also true of those units along South State Street. Now there are upscale auto dealers, upscale townhouses, and even a Target store on this route to Old Town and The Gold Coast.
This three act play, is more of a “Documentary” that should open one’s eyes to the secrets that our city held during these years. By speaking with the people who lived there during these times, the writers were able to take the stories and weave them into a play where we could read between the lines and understand the lives that these people lived with and endured. The loss of loved ones, the loss of personal property and even their loss of pride. Public housing was a breeding ground for gangs. Young men were forced to join gangs to survive.
Eight powerful actors make up the ensemble to tell these stories. Kenn E. Head, Anjo White, Eunice Woods, Joslyn Jones, Penelope Walker, Omar Evans, Stephen Conrad Moore and Linda Bright Clay. Each of them brings to the role ( or roles) they play the deep feeling and emotion of someone who lived through these times.
Paparelli directs this show with the eye of a creator and has brought in Jakari Sherman to add some very moving music and fitting choreography, that sets the mood for each of the transitions in time and movement. Yes, we do go through several years and changes as the government realizes that they need to make changes. The lower level buildings do not bring enough people into the project, but the high rise buildings bring with them other problems.
Thousands of families lived within these walls and for most of them there was no danger inside. When the danger did come was in that there were just far to many people for the area and the people who were living within were not always screened as they should. Even the gang-bangers are talked about in this production. Even they respected the elder residents and made sure of their safety. This cast of African-American performers portrays both Black and White people, including Mayor Daley, and you will be shocked at some of what you learn.
The actors sit on metal chairs next to cardboard boxes filled with their props (Jimmy Jagos does a great job). The projections on the wall (which appears to be a building in the project by William Boles) are designed by Michael Stanfill and Jesse Klug’s lighting is superb along with the sound by Patrick Bley.
This show will also go on the road, called a “Community Tour” on May 17th and May 24th in the neighborhoods where it all took place. May 17th at Jenner Elementary School at 6 p.m. (Cabrini-Green) and on the 24th at 5 p.m. at Wentworth gardens Field House. These are first come first served and FREE.
This production will continue at American Theater Co. located at 1909 West Byron Street (at Lincoln Avenue) thru May 24th with performances as follows:
Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. Mothers Day ONLY and on the 17th and 24th at noon.
Tickets range from $43-$48 and are available by calling 773-409-4125 or online at www.atcweb.org
there are some limited FREE tickets available for all former and current residents of public housing. Yes, there is still public housing, which they do discuss in this “documentary”, referred to as CHAnge in direction!
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “the Project(s)”.