It was a third-grade history lesson on civil rights and Rosa Parks that spawned Brian Quijada’s one man show, “Where Did We Sit on the Bus?” Blacks were in the back, whites up front. What about Mexican-Americans like him?
“You weren’t around,” his teacher answered. With that hook Quijada draws us in to his compelling personal story – largely based on his performing skills and big personality.
I harbor some diffidence about one-man shows, which can easily veer into narcissism. Quijada’s provocative title piqued my interest, and a mix-up in schedules had me with a couple hours open just as the lights came up for the matinee.
Apparently, others are on to what a great performer Quijada is: the theater was full for this return engagement of a show he wrote, choreographed, and for which he masters loops and overdubs into a nice accompaniment, built around his creditable singing and some well-chosen chords on his electric ukulele. It’s part of the Up Close and Personal series at www.Victorygardens.org
This story of a 28-year-old Chicagoland native, now making his way onto stages around the country, and into New York theater scene, has a lot of charm. After about 20 minutes it is clear Quijada is a natural born performer, and he has built an enticing showcase of his performance capabilities – almost like a general audition that shows his dancing and singing skills, as he recounts his resume on the stage starting from grammar school, through turns at everything from Shakespeare to Broadway musicals.
But Quijada’s story takes a more serious turn as he recounts the discrimination he encountered. And when we reach the part about his marriage to a German woman from Europe, and their prospect of having children, he understands he must bring answers to his future offspring.
That rapidly becomes a compelling tale of self-discovery, punctuated with hip hop and dance numbers that are as entertaining as the stories he recounts. The longest journey is through his father’s rejection of his theatrical career. He wanted to see him take up a safer, more practical trade to earn a living.
Quijada maintains his focus as he also defines himself in the world – still trying to answer that third-grade puzzle. His parents don’t have a story in the national narrative – no Mayflower, no slave ships, no Ellis Island. They weren’t there. They had to sneak in, unseen – a lightning rod now but written several years before the current tempest about immigration.
Quijada brings a tale of magical realism to his family history, and this one-man show rises to general significance for all of us, culminating in his journey to New York, where Quijada provides us a powerful insight on seeing the State of Liberty, sharing those famous words of the poem:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
This extra two lines we hear less often. They made all the differences that afternoon. And like everyone around me I laughed, I cried, and I rose to applaud. Don’t miss this Teatro Vista production at the Victory Gardens Theatre through June 4. Really recommended.
Due to extreme box office demand, Teatro Vista has added seats, more shows and a one-week extension for La Havana Madrid, Sandra Delgado's world premiere, live theater experience that reimagines the long-gone Caribbean nightclub that drew throngs of newly-arrived Latinos to Chicago's north side in the 1960's.
Originally running through May 21, La Havana Madrid will now play through May 28 at Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre, 1700 N. Halsted, Chicago.
Following its extended run at Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre, La Havana Madrid will be presented at The Miracle Center, 2311 N. Pulaski Rd. in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood, June 2-11, 2017 through the company's new program TEATRO VISTA, TEATRO VECINO (Spanish for "neighbor).
The updated performance schedule is:
Friday and Saturday, April 21 and 22 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, April 23 at 4 p.m.
Thursday through Saturday, April 27-29 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, April 30 at 4 p.m.
Wednesday* through Saturday, May 3-6 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 7 at 4 p.m.
Wednesday through Friday, May 10-12 at 8 p.m.
No show Saturday, May 13
Sunday, May 14 at 4 p.m.
Wednesday though Saturday, May 17-20 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 21 at 4 p.m.
Thursday and Friday, May 25 and 26 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, May 27 at 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 28 at 4 p.m.
*Note: On Wednesday, May 3, the role of La Havana Madrid will be played by Michelle J. Rodriguez, singer, songwriter and band leader of MICHA.
About La Havana Madrid
Step back in time to 1960's Chicago and into La Havana Madrid, the long-gone Caribbean nightclub that drew throngs of newly-arrived Latinos to the city's north side. A vibrant musical venue, La Havana Madrid became a cultural hub for these new Chicagoans. Inspired by real life stories of those who flocked to the club to celebrate and remember, this intimate recreation of the lively 1960's music club features live music and immerses you in the pulsing sounds of that decade from the mambo to the new sound of salsa.
La Havana Madrid is directed by Teatro Vista ensemble member Cheryl Lynn Bruce, who will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the League of Chicago Theatres on May 22.
In addition to conceiving and writing the play, Sandra Delgado also plays the title role of La Havana Madrid, a mystical woman who conjures vibrant songs and true stories that bring life back to the fabled North side nightclub.
Chicago comedian and producer Mike Oquendo portrays Tony Quintana, the one-time owner of La Havana Madrid and host of the 1960s Chicago radio show "Tony's Latin A-Go-Go."
Legendary Colombian-American musician Roberto "Carpacho" Marin, joined by his band of 30 years, Carpacho y Su Super Combo, perform live at every show. In fact, Carpacho's own story is one of the play's inspiring true vignettes. With Delgado as lead singer, Carpacho y Su Super Combo chronicles the history of Caribbean Latino music, live, from mambo to the birth of salsa.
Rounding out the cast as Cuban, Colombian, Caribbean and Puerto Rican patrons, staff and musicians who all met, danced, loved and lost at La Havana Madrid are Teatro Vista ensemble members Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, Tommy Rivera-Vega and Marvin Quijada, and, in their Teatro Vista debuts, Donovan Diaz, Phoebe González and Krystal Ortiz.
The design team that has crafted an intimate, immersive recreation of a lively 1960s music club - complete with cabaret seating, a bar, a dance floor and a small stage for the live band - are Ashley Woods (set), Elsa Hiltner (costumes),Heather Sparling (lights), Misha Fiksel (sound), Liviu Pasare (projections and video design) and William Carlos Angulo (choreography).
Following its run at Steppenwolf, Teatro Vista will present La Havana Madrid at The Miracle Center, 2311 N. Pulaski Rd., in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. Performances are June 2-4 and June 9-11: Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.; Sunday at 4 p.m. All tickets are $20. For tickets and information, visit teatrovista.org.
The Chicago Latino Theater Alliance is Production Sponsor of La Havana Madrid. Delgado received support from The Chicago Community Trust, a 2015 Joyce Award and a 3Arts 3AP Project Grant to support the development of La Havana Madrid. She developed the script as a member of the 2015-16 Playwright's Unit at Goodman Theatre. The Miracle Center residency is funded by The Chicago Community Trust and is part of Teatro Vista's new program TEATRO VISTA, TEATRO VECINO (Spanish for "neighbor).
Some history about La Havana Madrid
In the late 1950's and throughout the 1960's, Latinos from Caribbean countries such as Puerto Rico and Cuba settled all along Chicago's lakefront, from North Avenue to Devon.
Although from different countries, music brought them together. Their shared rhythms - African rhythms - became the guaguanco, the mambo and the merengue. Now in the United States, these rhythms merged with traditional big band sounds and eventually became salsa.
On the North side of Chicago, a handful of Latino music clubs opened up: Coco Loco on Lincoln Avenue, The Mirror Lounge on North Avenue and La Havana Madrid on Belmont and Sheffield, in the second floor space now occupied by Milio's Hair Studio. While the history of La Havana Madrid may be fuzzy, what is known is Cubans opened it in the early 1960's and the club became a busy melting pot for newly arrived Latinos in Chicago. It's believed La Havana Madrid closed in the mid-1970's.
About Teatro Vista
Teatro Vista (teatrovista.org) produces, develops and commissions plays that explore the wealth and variety of the human experience from a Latinx perspective. The company provides work and professional advancement opportunities for Latinx theatre artists, with special emphasis on the company's ensemble members, and seeks to enhance the curricular goals of Chicago students through theatre.
Teatro Vista was recently celebrated as one of "Chicago's Cultural Leaders" by the Arts & Business Council of Chicago and received the League of Chicago Theatre's Artistic Leadership Award.
Teatro Vista's primary focus is producing new works by Latinx theatre artists and presenting classic plays featuring artists of color. Its artistic vision is shaped by the company's ensemble members, a group of multi-generational, multi-ethnic and multi-disciplinary artists. They inform Teatro Vista's artistic aesthetic by devising original works as well as by selecting plays with themes that are engaging and relevant to Chicago's diverse population.
Teatro Vista founded in 1990 by Edward Torres and Henry Godinez. As Teatro Vista's first Artistic Director, Godinez guided the company during the formative years. He helped stage successful productions and establish vital relationships with other theatre companies and artists. When Godinez stepped down, Torres was appointed Artistic Director. Under Torres' direction, Teatro Vista used the stage to engage, connect and challenge audience members using the company's mission as his guide. In 2012, Torres moved to New York and the Board of Directors promoted longtime Associate Artistic Director Ricardo Gutiérrez to the position of Executive Artistic Director.
In 2017, Sylvia Hevia joined Teatro Vista as Managing and Development Director. Previously, Hevia was Director of Marketing and Development of the International Latino Cultural Center and had her own multicultural event production company dedicated to bringing Latinx cultural events, performances and recording artists to Chicago.
Teatro Vista ensemble includes Charín Álvarez, Max Arciniega, Desmín Borges, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Ramón Camín, Ivonne Coll, Laura Dahl, Sandra Delgado, Liza Fernández, Khanisha Foster, Isaac Gomez, Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, Ricardo Gutiérrez, Erik Juárez, Jon Lyon, Sandra Márquez, Eddie Martinez, J. Salomé Martinez Jr., Joe Minoso, Ayssette Muñoz, Christina Nieves, Marvin Quijada, Tommy Rivera-Vega, Gabriel Ruíz, Nate Santana, Cecilia Suarez and co-founder Edward Torres.
Teatro Vista's Board of Directors includes Ezequiel "Zeek" Agosto, President; Rodrigo García and Rosanna Márquez, Vice Presidents; Joan Pantsios, Secretary; Tom Vega-Byrnes, Treasurer; and Bhuvana Badrinathan, José Antonio Cruz, Edgar Delgado, Ricardo Gutiérrez, Yolanda Hardy and Kareem Mohamednur.
Teatro Vista is supported by The Joyce Foundation, Alphawood Foundation, Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, The MacArthur Fund for Arts & Culture at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events of the City of Chicago, The Shubert Foundation, TheGaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation and The Saints.
Purple Group and Cumberland Irving are Teatro Vista's Headline Season Sponsors. Teatro Vista is a Victory Gardens Resident Theater.
The lights come up as a dark-haired young, Latino - bloodied, bruised, battered - launches into an adrenaline-fueled monolog.
Facing the audience, Abe (Gabe Ruiz) is talking a mile a minute to an unseen clerk in the wee hours at a convenience store. From the torrent we piece together clues - Abe has survived a harrowing event.
From this opening, playwright Ike Holter toggles the audience between puzzlement and certainty as The Wolf at the End of the Block tells its story in increments. This high-energy thriller gradually unfolds details that at each bend make us re-examine what we thought we knew.
Though serious and even tense, The Wolf is never dreary - the pace and light-hearted delivery, the playful banter of the characters, keep it from veering into a diatribe. These are people who manage to extract the joy and happiness when and where they find it, while they can.
The next morning we find Abe awaited by sister Miranda (Ayssette Muñóz) and boss Nunley (Bear Bellinger) at the restaurant where he works, since Abe did not come home last night. He arrives - more lucid but still in shock - and reveals he was attacked in a police bar in an anti-Hispanic hate crime. Ethnic slurs were hurled, fists flew.
Holter takes us deeper: Miranda, a citizen journalist, feeds this crime lead to Frida, renowned TV newscaster. After vetting Abe's recount, Frida decides she will run with the story. Sandra Marquez delivers Frida as a savvy yet jaded reporter - talking in a clip that seems to be ripped right out of The Front Page. The story passes muster as one that will work on TV.
We follow as Holter digs even further: the sister Miranda determines Abe has held back something from Frida - he was drinking more than he said and may have instigated the fight. Frida doesn't care; she will use the part of the story that works for the viewers.
At another point, Nunley, Abe's African-American boss, reveals he has a tape of Abe that may show him stealing - we are never quite sure. We are with Nunley when he enounters the cop James (James Farrugio is perfectly sinister) who may have beaten Abe, and we share Nunley's fear and intimidation.
Against the current turbulent political landscape, the play also examines the role of facts in media, and how motive can affect which truth is revealed, or suppressed.
Having its world premiere, Teatro Vista's The Wolf at the End of the Block is engrossing, well acted and well produced - and is readily recommended. Holter is considered an up and coming writer - at moments he shows a structure and even lyricism along with pragmatic realism. This is the kind of theater we want to see more of. It runs through March 5 at the Victory Gardens Theatre.
As Chekov supposedly once said, if you bring a gun out in act one, it better go off by act three. Raul Castillo’s new play for Teatro Vista, ‘Between You, Me and the Lampshade’ goes for a metaphoric interpretation of the old rule.
The play starts off with a rush of adrenaline as a mysteriously battered young woman (Aysette Munoz) breaks into the trailer home of Jesse (Sandra Marquez). Jesse stands armed with a rifle, and from there a riveting dialog about race, immigration and love unfolds over 90 minutes.
Castillo’s play is largely plot-driven in an old school kinda way, but he raises it from the pot-boiler genre with the poetic yearnings of a Mexican couple stuck between two countries and on the run from border patrol. Castillo also goes on to comment on the inter-minority caste system. Jesse though Latina, denies her home intruder from calling her senorita or speaking Spanish. She even goes on to use racial slurs. The characters’ use of the vernacular and a plethora of double-negatives subtly provide a very realistic atmosphere of life in southern Texas.
The play isn’t without its lightness. A touching scene between Jesse’s teenage son Woody (Tommy Rivera-Vega) and his gamer, cyber pal K-Ten (Bryce Gangel) hits on issues of loneliness and the feeling of being misunderstood even in a place where everyone speaks the same language. When the cyber pal actually shows up in real life, a romantic current emerges.
The cast works well together under the direction of Ricardo Gutierrez. Bryce Gangel’s self-involved and blissfully unaware character brings with her most of the show’s comedy. Sandra Marquez is very sure of herself in the role of a flailing mother and reluctant aid, with authentic reactions that are at times abrasive, which is to say very human. Ayssette Munoz as a woman on the run makes careful choices, without veering into melodrama. While this is not yet a perfect play, Raul Castillo’s undoubtedly a talented playwright with the foundation of a provocative play that calls for immigration reform.
Through May 10th - Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens Theatre. 2433 N Lincoln Ave. 773-871-3000