Review: THIS TRAIN (16th Street Theater at Steppenwolf)

An expressive train ride full of colorful humanity

 

this-train

   
16th Street Theater presents
  
THIS TRAIN
   
Written and performed by Tony Fitzpatrick
Directed by
Ann Filmer
at Steppenwolf’s
Merle Reskin Garage Theatre (map)
through August 1st  |  tickets: $22  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Imagine riding the Red Line with Michael Moore, John Goodman and Mother Theresa to the Morse Stop to decipher the graffiti, enjoy the art and give money to the poor while a street musician serenaded. 16th Street Theater presents THIS TRAIN at Steppenwolf’s Merle Reskin Garage Theatre. It’s a multi-media experience written and performed by artist, poet, actor Tony Fitzpatrick. The show is a collection of this-train3 expression; projected images of art accompanied by sung verse intermingled with real life tales of vagabonds through history and on Damen Avenue. This decoupage of the plight of the hobo uses political rants and amusing side stories to get at the core illustration: ‘the greatest crime in this country is to be poor.’ With the current economic climate, THIS TRAIN is a timely ride connecting beyond people’s stations in life.

THIS TRAIN is Tony Fitzpatrick’s one hobo show. A musician trio and a Paul Shaffer-look-a-like sidekick are present but they are more props in ‘Tony’s World.’ Fitzpatrick shares personal stories of his journey as an artistic drifter. Channeling a new age hobo confidence, he likes to be paid first and in cash. Mimicking his Ukraine neighbor, Studs Terkel, or a plethora of homeless visitors to his studio, Fitzpatrick is a masterful storyteller creating visuals from his word choices. What keeps the show from being a vanity showcase is Fitzpatrick’s vulnerability, compassion and genuine fondness for the poor. He knows the impoverished by name. ‘I’m two paychecks away from being Tony and one drink away from being Wayne.’ Along with his stories, the audience gets glimpses of his art. Pictures of his art are projected with music accompaniment and Fitzpatrick’s recorded poetry. The art is folksy abstract with the fusion graphics of skeletons, words and the hobo alphabet. Fitzpatrick’s proclamations of ‘language comes from art’ and ‘art is a labor of desire’ are represented in this auto-biographical ‘wonder’ choice where he fully loves and participates.

 

ThisTrain_SallyandJohn  ThisTrainEnsemble
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Under the direction of Ann Filmer, ‘voiceover Tony’ and ‘real life Tony’ segments transition without a hitch. The show has an unrehearsed, authentic, stopover in ‘Tony’s World’ feel. The style seems gritty and spontaneous to match the content. For the projection segments, Kristin Reeves has created a video that uses movement, people, paintings and the written word as a vehicle synced perfectly with a pre-recorded Fitzpatrick narration or Kat Eggleston’s soulful singing. The effect is breaking up the commute watching YouTube videos on an I-pod.

Public transportation is not for everyone. But for those who appreciate the colorful humanity that makes any transit ride more entertaining, Fitzpatrick drives THIS TRAIN up close and personal. Catch THIS TRAIN off the Red Line Clybourn stop or hop the Blue Line to Big Cat Press, 2124 N. Damen, for daily encore presentations.

   
    
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Running Time: 100 minutes included a fifteen minute intermission

3 WORDS: Getting on the Brown Line, James describes the show with “Next Stop: Chicago.”

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REVIEW: Our Lady of the Underpass (16th Street Theater, with Teatro Vista)

A compelling story, no matter what you see

 

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16th Street Theater (with Teatro Vista) presents
 
Our Lady of the Underpass
 
Written by Tanya Saracho
Directed by Sandra Marquez

at 16th Street Theater, 6420 W. 16th Street, Berwyn
(map)
through May 1 (more info)

By Catey Sullivan

Roughly mid-way through Our Lady of the Underpass, a disgruntled jogger played by Chris Cantelmi goes off on the “retards”  fucking up  his Fullerton Avenue running route as they gather to pray at the titular image.

“These Catholics,” he snarls, adjusting his scrotum through his expensive running gear, “They’re like, ‘Look at my grilled cheese! It’s Jesus! Call a press conference!”

If there’s a more authentic archetype of urban assholery on stage this month, we’d be surprised. With a wad of chewing gum and the ugly air of entitlement peculiar to 20something boys with a full head of hair and a Gold’s Gym physique, Cantalemi captures in full the egoism and the cluelessness of  fellow that’s all too recognizable.

Juan Gabriel Ruiz (photo credit: Art Carillo) He’s but one in the vivid, vibrant parade of characters that people Tanya Saracho’s docudrama centering on the image Obdulia Delgado discovered on the Fullerton Avenue underpass five years ago this month. Directed by Sandra Marquez (who helmed the same cast in last year’s world-premiere of Our Ladyat Victory Gardens), this joint Teatro Vista16th Street production offers an alternately tragic, comic, and provocative examination of faith and skepticism in Chicago.

Saracho spent months, tape-recorder in hand, at the underpass many claimed was a sacred spot after an image of the Virgin Mary (or was it a salt stain?) appeared. As the candles, flowers and petitions accrued, she interviewed the pilgrims who flocked to visit the manifestation of the Virgin Mary -  as well as those who insisted it was a bad patch job.  Our Lady captures the depth and breadth of both the spiritual and the cynical in six, captivating monologues. The disparate (and often desperate) stories are so wholly compelling, it becomes easy to overlook Saracho’s formidable powers as a reporter. At the underpass, complete strangers unburdened  their darkest secrets to her – hopes, hurts and emotions that, in many cases, they had never uttered aloud. If the playwriting thing doesn’t work out for Saracho, she’s surely got a career as an investigative journalist.

In contrast to Cantelmi’s masterstroke as the quintessential tool, Our Lady presents Suzette Mayobre as a Huppie (an upwardly mobile Latina) inexplicably shuddering through a complete breakdown in pink monkey pajamas and Uggs. Her story of a fairy tale relationship (“It was like we were trapped in an ad for a cruise”) that suddenly, literally turns to shit is as hilarious as it is upsetting. If doesn’t matter if you can’t directly relate to the plight of a woman whose perfect boyfriend takes an unforeseen  scatological swerve. Anyone who has ever  been forced to deal with the unthinkable  – and gone a little crazy trying to do so – will recognize themselves in this  moving, tragically funny portrait.

Equally compelling is Gabriel Juan Ruiz as Tony, Elgin resident, aspiring deacon and self-appointed guardian of the Underpass.  Ruiz creates a marvelous trajectory from soft-spoken reason to feral, screaming misogyny  in the space of a single monologue. Women are god’s creatures, Tony rhapsodizes with the gentle, doe-eyed wonder of a lamb -  until (and here, Ruiz captures the distilled essence of bug-eyed mania) they turn into the “beast of the Revelation.”  With Tony’s parting words, Ruiz’ unleashes a neediness that’s downright scary: “I’ve been on television four times!” He yells, and in that frenzied distress, one gets the sense of a desperation that’s almost sociopathic.

underpass1 On the other end of the spectrum is Charin Alvarez, as La Tia, the aunt of a severely disabled boy who is the love of her life. Her story unfolds in the self-effacing tones of a woman who has always put herself a far distant second behind anyone else she might encounter, from immediate family to factory co-workers. Recalling a  transnational Monterrey-to-Chicago love story, the family reunion that upended her life and her abiding devotion to a child not apt to live past one more birthday, Alvarez speaks with a melodious, near-hypnotic tone that is both her artistic signature and the voice of a unique character. It’s a sad, lovely and powerful story.

The one piece in Our Lady that does not work quite so well this time around is the nurse’s tale, the narrative of a Polish-American RN whose bitter recollections of growing up the daughter of a cleaning lady have shaped her angry world outlook. Amanda Powell – the sole newcomer to the cast since it’s premiere last year – leans too hard on the trash-talking vitriol, giving the piece an unvarying rage that doesn’t allow for an emotional arc.

That, however, is largely a quibble –  our sense is that the nurse’s mono-rancor will settle into more varying depths as the run continues.

Between the monologues, Saracho places brief choruses of prayer to Our Lady of the Underpass, of The Botanica that Also Sells Phone Cards, of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, of Affordable Duplexes and all the other causes the Virgin takes on as Fullerton Avenue becomes a shrine. The scenes play out on Brian Sidney Bembridge’s startlingly accurate replication of the underpass and the image on it. Mike Tutaj’s projections of flickering candles, graffiti and shimmering auras instill the piece with both a sense of mysticism and the harsh urban reality of disfigured concrete. No matter what you see as you gaze on the Underpass, Saracho’s story of its power is compelling.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

     

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Chicago theater openings and closings this week

show openings

Bonbs Away! Bailiwick Repertory

Boys Life Gorilla Tango Theatre

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Draft Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plaza Suite Eclipse Theatre

The Second City’s Girls Night Out Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Visionfest 2009 LiveWire Chicago Theatre

 

show closings

Bye, Bye Birdie Northwestern University Theater 

El Grito del Bronx Collaboraction 

Honest Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Barbecue 16th Street Theater

Macbeth First Folio Theatre

The Mistress Cycle Apple Tree Theatre

Sex With Strangers Steppenwolf Theatre

The Siren Song of Stephan Jay Gould Gorilla Tango Theatre

Ski Dubai Steppenwolf Theatre

Spinning Yarns the side project

Trignity Donny’s Skybox

Tupperware: an American Musical Fable The New Colony

Viva Che Latte Donny’s Skybox

What the Weird Sisters Saw the side project

Theater Thursday: “The Last Barbecue” – 16th Street Theater

Thursday, July 16

The Last Barbecue by Brett Neveu
16th Street Theater
6420 16th Street, Berwyn (map)

The Last Barbecue - 16th Street TheaterCome to 16th Street Theater / Berwyn Cultural Center‘s beautiful new outdoor garden before the show to enjoy a barbecue catered by Cabin Fever featuring mini burgers grilled to order and all the yummy bbq fixings. Then stay to enjoy the comedy that first put Chicago playwright Brett Neveu on the map, followed by a post-show dialogue with members of the cast and director. The Last Barbecue is an audacious and dark comedy about a ten-year reunion of a son’s high school graduation that coincides with the one-year anniversary of the next-door neighbor’s death. A remount of The Aardvark’s 2000 critically-acclaimed production. "Hilarious and ominous." (New City)

Event begins at 6:30 p.m. Show begins at 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS ONLY $22
For reservations call 708.795.6704 x105 and mention "Theater Thursdays," or buy online at www.16thstreettheater.org.

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Theater Thursday is sponsored by this Chicago-area restaurant guide,
as well as Chicago area bar guidea great site
for Chicago foodies and theater enthusiasts alike.

Theatre Thursday – "Fires in the Mirror" at 16th Street Theater

Thursday, February 5

Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith

16th Street Theater

6420 16th Street, Berwyn

229 Come to 16th Street before the show to enjoy dinner catered by the popular Wishbone Restaurant featuring their healthy, southern-style comfort food. Then stay for the provocative Pulitzer Prize-nominated Fires in the Mirror, followed by a post-show dialogue with members of the cast and director.
Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Blacks vs. Jews. Four actresses embody 26 different perspectives in this stunning exploration of the events and emotions surrounding the 1991 racially-charged riots. “The most compelling and sophisticated view of urban racial and class conflict that one could hope to encounter.” —New York Times.

wishbone

Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m.
Show begins at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25
For reservations call 708.795.6704 x105 and mention “Theater Thursdays.” 

This week’s Chicago theater openings:

BEERThe Neo-Futurists

CARDIFF (BOUND EAST FOR CARDIFF)Goodman Theatre

DESIGN FOR LIVINGFirst Folio Theatre

FIRES IN THE MIRROR16th Street Theater

I GOTCHABlack Ensemble Theatre

LIVING GREEN Victory Gardens Theater

MISAMERICARaven Theatre

THE SINS OF SOR JUANA Northwestern University Theatre

SLAPHAPPY Beat the Jester Productions

XANADUDrury Lane Theatre Watertower Place