By Patrick O’Brien
With its third engagement in as many years, it’s almost hard to believe that Teatro Vista and Collaboraction’s La Havana Madrid ever closed up shop. And it didn’t, really. Sandra Delgado’s restless play — a great big party, really — just kept finding new digs, journeying on a wave of critical acclaim and overwhelming demand. If you happened to miss the party before (a previous review of an earlier production can be found here), it’s going on at the Den right now. Wouldn’t wanna miss it.
Once more, Delgado resurrects the spirit (and even plays the spirit) of La Havana Madrid, an actual Chicago nightclub that enjoyed its heyday in the 60s. Like any good club, it had something for everyone: drinks, dancing, a solid house band, and a chance to escape. For its clientele of Caribbean expatriates, escape could simply mean a few bars of that distinct Cuban rhythm played like how it was back home, or perhaps even that infectious new music — salsa — that was making waves out east. It could mean a chance for like to mingle with like — to share a language, a dance, or even a whole lifetime together. It also could mean just pretending for a moment that the world outside wasn’t a powder keg about to blow; that squeezing out of Castro’s grasp was only the beginning of the struggle; that one day, their neighborhood would no longer be their neighborhood.
Delgado’s play, then, is un poco como Gran Hotel: people come, people go, life goes on for a small collection of real people whose lives were touched in some way by this oasis on Belmont and Sheffield. It begins with the checkered hope of a migrant teen (Aysette Muñoz), displaced from home but willing to make a new start of it. It blossoms into love and marriage as the displaced (Tommy Rivera-Vega and Alex Rhode) find each other again.
It then careens between the highs and lows, between ecstasy and rue, when a freshly crowned pageant queen (Ilse Zacaharias) finds her shining newfound acceptance sullied by the Division Street Riots, which were spurred by police tensions and the Puerto Rican community’s impending gentrified displacement. Or when an erstwhile sergeant (Mike Oquendo) rediscovers his sentimental side through the radio.
But there’s always music to bring them round: Carpacho y Su Súper Combo has followed Delgado here, there, and everywhere, and if the tapestry of history hasn’t brought you round, they’ll have you out of your seat and dancing before the night is out. They fit quite nicely in the Den, which José Manuel Díaz-Soto has tastefully done up in crepes, turquoises, and flamingo pinks for the proper 60s nightclub ambience. (There’s even table seating.)
It’s a lively, heartfelt evening, the sort of evening where, when Delgado requests you close your eyes while her words take you through the eons of history that have passed over Chicago, you do. “Esta es nuestra historia” — “This is our history” — is her siren call, her sermon, her exhortation. All are welcome to La Havana Madrid, or Chicago, even. But sometimes, something gets lost and forgotten in a city where people and communities are always on the move, or displaced. And it’s Delgado’s pleasure — her duty — to bring those back to the light.
Teatro Vista and Collaboraction present La Havana Madrid through June 30 at the Heath Maistage of The Den Theatre, 1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.