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THEATER REVIEW La Havana Madrid
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-05-22

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Playwright: Sandra Delgado

At: Teatro Vista/Collaboraction at the Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: TheDenTheatre.com; $30-$60. Runs through: June 22

This joint production of the Teatro Vista and Collaboraction theater companies premiered in March 2017 at Steppenwolf's 1700, where it sold out its run in one day. Three months later, the remount in the Goodman's Owen likewise set audiences to scrambling for tickets despite multiple extensions. The current incarnation, its third, looks to prove likewise successful.

So, what is this show that playgoers just won't let go, whose every departure elicits entreaties for a swift return, and whose presentation involves music, dancing and vivid recollections of days gone by?

Who would have guessed it to be a saga of divisive displacement, cultural diaspora and a long history of migration precipitated by hostile strangers—and just to ensure that we understand the irony, author Sandra Delgado reminds us that the theater where we now view it was once host to a very different population.

The actual Havana Madrid was a loft located at Belmont and Sheffield avenues, now occupied by Milio's Hair Salon, but during the 1960s housing a community center for Caribbean immigrants fleeing political, economic and/or ethnic oppression. The United States provided refuge, but as quickly as its new citizens settled in new homes, they would be forced to abandon them by corporate developers, armed not with guns this time, but with "gentrification."

Our anthropological tour is conducted in a series of personal anecdotes recounted by characters based on real-life Chicago personalities ( many of whom were in attendance on opening night ). Their testimony includes a Cuban "Pedro Pan" child relocated to Evanston in 1951, a pair of newlyweds married in a church-to-church "proxy" ceremony, an angry adolescent-turned-photojournalist, a car salesman-turned-radio celebrity, and an itinerant string-bass player now serving as leader of the band providing the music for us.

That's right—the music. Delgado is not content to merely tell "our story," but also recreates the Havana Madrid in the Den's Heath Mainstage, whose dimensions approximate those they duplicate more closely than previous auditoriums, and thus easily accommodates Roberto "Carpacho" Marin y Su Super Combo, ( featuring Carol McPherson on dancing trombone ) and Delgado herself as guest vocalist/emcee, along with hoofers Victor Musoni, Marvin Quijada, and Tommy Rivera-Vega burning up the floor with Wilfredo Rivera's choreography. Oh, and did I mention the evening's agenda including several "dance breaks" for playgoers to salsa in the aisles?


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