Playwright: Guadalis Del Carmen
At: UrbanTheater Company at Batey Urbano, 2620 W. Division St. Tickets: Urbantheaterchicago.org; $20. Runs through: Oct. 20
It's not your imagination. The scenic design looks familiar because you just walked to the playhouse through its real-life counterpart in Humboldt Park's Paseo Boricua. To be sure, the imposing Puerto Rican Flag sculptures at Western and Division are missing from the stage, replaced by a sign re-christening the promenade "Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Street" and Andre Payne-Guillory's twin storefronts inside the architecturally similar Batey Urbano where we are seated, now house, in one unit, an old-fashioned variety store, while the other is soon to become the refuge of a new-age health spa.
UrbanTheater's theme for its 2018 season is "Born and Raised," and how better to express community ownership than with a story based in historical events set in the very district where they occurred? The characters in Guadalis Del Carmen's play may be fictional, but the issues they address are immediately recognizable. In a "city of neighborhoods" such as ours, migration is constant and the social friction generated by tribal displacement as inevitable as it is ubiquitous.
Don't arrive expecting a journalistic docudrama, replete with talking heads reciting facts and statistics, though. In this dramatic microcosm, only one Anglo couple takes exception to the customs of their recently adopted environment, while a single pair of activists oppose the gentrification of their ethnic enclaveequating it with colonizationrepresented by the newcomers. Caught up in the intercultural strife on the eve of the upcoming Puerto Rican Festival are alderman Nancy Torres, herself beset by death threats; shopkeeper Reynaldo Rodriguez, who struggles against rising property taxes; and real-estate agent Julio Aviles, reviled on both sides for his divided loyalties.
Despite the auditory environment created by Nick Rojas' score of site-specific street sounds ( a symphony encompassing automotive equipment of all varieties, sidewalk plena-y-panderita music and conversations conducted across front stoops, upstairs windows, and curbside vehicles ), the symposial framework underlying the play's arguments is unmistakeable. The cast assembled by director Sara Carranza and led by pioneering LatinX actor Frankie Davila as the warm-hearted Reynaldo deftly reject caricature to offer a rare portrait of social and economical conflictsand how to resolve themblissfully free of the divisive rancor so prevalent in our times.