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THEATER REVIEW La Havana Madrid
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-04-26

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Playwright: Sandra Delgado. At: Teatro Vista at Steppenwolf 1700 Theatre, 1700 N. Halsted St. Tickets: $15-$50. Runs through: May 28

Chicago has been described as a "city of neighborhoods"—a sobriquet suggesting a tour of the world encapsulated in a few square miles—but also hearkening to feudal ages, making its legacy a chronicle of multicultural displacement as well as assimilation.

The instigators of these shifting populations nowadays are not hostile governments so much as commercial conglomerates bent on economical gain—a phenomenon not restricted to communities of color, as demonstrated by the current upheaval in Lake View and Old Town.

Sandra Delgado documents the Latinx diaspora in microcosm by focusing her ethnographic survey on a single location—the Havana Madrid club at the corner of Belmont and Sheffield Avenues, in the loft now housing the Milio's Hair Salon. Though operating for barely a decade, in the 1960s, La Havana Madrid was an urban refuge where immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries, united by their common language, congregated to bask nostalgically in the music they remembered.

Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre space has been reconfigured to replicate this oasis. Seated at cocktail tables, serenaded by Carpacho y Su SÚper Combo and guided by the shamanistic spirit of La Havana Madrid, we hear the stories of how Cuban "Peter Pan" children were sent by their parents to foster families dwelling safely distant from Castro's work camps, how a pair of Colombian lovers exchanged their marriage vows "by proxy" in separate countries before uniting in the United States and how a photojournalist first found his calling in a juvenile reformatory. It's not all happy—we also revisit the Humboldt Park riots of 1966, erupting from the shooting of a teenager by restless police officers—but the geographical specificity of these first-person experiences render them immediately familiar to long-time residents of Chicago's North Side.

This specificity is underlined by many of the subjects themselves, attending the opening-night performance. ( One of them—bandleader and bass player Roberto "Carpacho" Marin—is in the show. ) The eight-member ensemble delivers uniformly excellent performances adhering to the immersive environment established by Cheryl Lynn Bruce's direction, assisted by a technical team likewise transporting us backward over decades, and by William Carlos Angulo's supple dances conveying a range of emotions from starry-eyed romance to chaos-fueled agony.

The evening features several "dance breaks' during which spectators—even those not knowing a mambo from a minuet—are encouraged to participate. Don't be shy: All are welcome at La Havana Madrid.


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