catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 3 :: 2012.02.03 — 2012.02.16


Suitcases, rubber ducks, game shows and superhuman padres

The stage seems to be built out of suitcases.  The show begins as actors coalesce out of the audience to one end of the stage and two guitarists begin accompanying a song that tells the story of a sweet leaf tree whose seeds were transplanted far from where they began, then grew through adversity and fear into a strong and rooted tree.

Stories begin to unfold in quick succession: police threaten a man who is carrying a concealed rubber duck that his daughter gave him before he began his journey north, a Palestinian girl hawks her stuffed animals with a smile in order to raise money to support her expatriate family; another man teaches his son their cover story in case they are caught by immigration police; children playing soccer discuss whether the padre who runs the neighborhood center has super powers; a man born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents plays a nightmarish game show trying to win his citizenship; two nuns describe how they worked the political system in order to be allowed to pray with those who are about to be deported; and more and more and more stories unfold, each one utterly compelling.  Each story brings home the human beings behind the policy decisions, the families torn apart by deportations, the desperate lives that drive people to seek shelter in the United States, and the fragile hope they cling to once they arrive. 

This is Home/Land, the latest offering by the amazing Albany Park Theatre Project (APTP).   It is not, ultimately, a political play.  It is about the families, children, parents, activists and police who are at the center of the immigration debate, not so much about the debate itself.  At one point, one character says, “At the center of every people’s struggle, you will find God.”  It is the people this play keeps coming back to relentlessly, and what makes the play important is the way this struggle helps us see how people connect to each other and God in the midst of impossible situations.  The guard who confesses that he can’t sleep at night, the people who cling to each other in the cold wet hold of a smuggler’s boat, the father and son trying to communicate through a pane of glass at a detention center, the Palestinian woman who experiences a panic attack as she boards a plane full of people who seem to distrust and even hate her — these are moments when we see what it means to be human.  In one scene, set at a rally, we see the profound reality of many different people dancing in the streets before us, drowning out the impersonal and inadequate summary of the rally given by the news reporters on TV monitors on the walls. 

This is the sort of play that convinces you, regardless of your stance about immigration law policy, that something must be done to help the people.  This is the sort of play that leaves you wanting to sit in silence and think for a while.  It is also the sort of play that makes you want to talk about every aspect of it with your friends.  The bottom line is, it is just a really, really good play. 

And now we come to the difficult part of the review.  I should probably tell you at this point, that all the actors in APTP are high school age and younger.  I should describe how the directors work with these students to gather stories by interviewing people in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago, how they use improv and other theater techniques to develop ways to present these stories, and how the whole process takes sometimes more than a year.  I should tell you how, compared to the average for Chicago Public Schools, students in APTP have a high school graduation rate that’s 72% better, a 42% higher college matriculation rate, and a 600% higher college graduation rate. 

But see, if I tell you all that, you will think you need to go see their show because it is a good way to support a worthwhile endeavor that helps kids in a needy neighborhood.  And that is not the point.  If you want to support a worthwhile endeavor, feel free to send APTP some money.  But don’t come to see the show for that reason.  Be selfish.  Come to see the show because it is some of the best theater in the country, by any actors, professional or amateur, of any age.  Period.  Seriously.  I am not exaggerating.  And listen, this particular show runs until March 10.  Get yourself to Chicago and see it.  If you can’t get tickets, bookmark the APTP website and go see their next show.  You won’t regret it.  

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