Patient: Not for Sale
Legal Guardians: Playwright Guadalís del Carmen, Director Wendy Mateo
Surname: Urban Theater Company
Address: 2620 W. Division St., Chicago, IL, 60622
Insurance: PagePay Plus
Symptoms: We-got-the-gringos, we-got-some-Puerto-Ricans, we-got-it-all.
I didn’t know the gringos took Lincoln Park. That is wise Chicago history the patient gave me. I knew about the great metal Puerto Rican flags that fly high over Division street in Chicago. Humboldt Park has a strong Puerto Rican past and present, but I did not notice the gringos were on the prowl for her. It makes sense. Driving west on North from Damen and one will see the stark transition from “Eclectic Clothitoriums” to street side torta sellers.
The artistic director and executive director, Miranda Gonzalez and Ivan Vega, gave their comments before the show on why they brought the script to life: one reason was to keep Chicago stories real, particularly against theatrical transplants. I liked that. Many come to the Big City for Big Opportunity or Big Spending, but who was raised here? Who knows the rhythm of her streets? This short intro was analogous to the patient’s story with “decolonizing the culture” in Humboldt Park.
I was fascinated by the Urban Theater Company’s capacity to fit a black box into their street side theater. Their lobby is a closet, but their stage is... a big enough closet. The mise-en-scene was cute: two lil’ shops n’ such. As such, transitions were always quiet and simple—my favorite. I was sittin’ pretty, but the playbill was sour because it was merely a mass resume, advertisement, and boring questionarre. No info on the play, but there was a pretty shot of the Latina playwright. At least there was a short paragraph of Urban Theater’s mission before two pages of generous actor bios.
The play started strong as a pseudo facebook status update on the gringos in the hood. Andre Truss as Devin Thompson and Andrew Neftalí Pérez as Ricky Gonzalez ally-yooped each other robustly throughout. Pérez’s feisty actor plasm spat a tear to my eye. The stage needs ten more of these boys by tomorrow. The Sokolovs, played by Saemus McMahon and Rebekah Roberts, were thoughtfully darling. In all my years, I’ve never seen more talented encroaching cosmopolitans. I never will.
Frankie Davila as Reynaldo Rodriguez shocked me with his simple, masculine authenticity. He was no less than the Puerto Rican Marlon Brando touring Humboldt Park. He was the perfect personification of the playwright’s thesis on Puerto-Rican American culture. There is no replicating what he did: only he has the years on him to live on the street as a Latino. He was a gem for the playwright.
Past Puerto Rican zest, Soli Santos as Alderwoman Nancy Torres recited the lines rather than spoke to other characters on stage. At first I thought it was initial stage jitters, but she consistently droned. The bureaucratic role invited this flaw, in addition, the lines of this bureaucratic role were… bureaucratic. Guadalís has an unforgivably linear idea about Aldermen: Torres was always a lame one-liner machine. Nothing the Alderwoman said was exciting or inciting, even when she tried. “Here’s my card.”
The intermission drama was so cliche and unwarranted I had a heart attack.
McMahon and Davila had a timeless dialogue, but it ended in a cloy mush. It’s moments like those that I want to break my vows as an Angel Doctor and Do Harm to Some: the playwright. Devin Thompson didn’t make sense. Was he a bodyguard to the Alderwoman? Then isn’t it steep for him to run for office? If he was more than a bodyguard at City Hall, why is he in Humboldt Park? Humboldt Park is not bad—that’s why the gringos want it—but his status was too magical for me.
The simplistic language flowed with the authentic dialogues but stifled all drama. All drama.
Act 2 was Act 1 with a 2 stapled onto it. It was the continued abrasion of culture wars from the first act without anything new. The plot wouldn’t dare evolve. It was a carousel of authenticity, namely Davila, refreshing, but boring by the third run around. Very boring.
The worst flaw of modern street side theater occurred: the solutions were Sesame Street. They were horrible and simple. Act 2 could have devoted more time to naturally build up to these solutions to make them more legitimate. Instead, something-something-something-something-decolonize the culture-something-something-We did it?
The playwright’s consistent flaw is an inability to close her work. Act 2 as a whole was flat. Dialogues ended flat. Plot resolution is flat. Neither the noble themes nor Davila could save these closing issues. These flops are always a paradox because they exist beside strong primal spirits.
This patient was ready for a perfect health rating, but Guadalís’s crooked spine needs to be straightened out immediately. It has been a testament to the playwright’s contribution to the stage: no amount of theme, actors, staging, culture, or energy, will ever precede the necessity of a healthy script.