Goodman Theatre’s flexible second stage, the Owen, gets a makeover for LA HAVANA MADRID, a salute to a Latino music club that thrived in Chicago in the 1960s. To accommodate Teatro Vista’s hit production, the Owen’s usual row seating has been replaced with nightclub-style tables, hanging paper stars, mirror ball lighting and a festive proscenium that frames Sandra Delgado – both the show’s author and its vocalist -- and Carpacho y Su Super Combo, a five-piece Columbian-American band.
Their music carries us through LA HAVANA MADRID the way that the club once carried immigrants through rough new lives in Chicago. These Spanish-speakers came from different countries but shared the common experience of otherness. At La Havana Madrid at Belmont and Sheffield Avenues, they found kinship whether they emigrated from Cuba, Puerto Rico or Columbia. And then there was the rejuvenating beat of the music – at least until gentrification pushed the Latino population out of Lincoln Park.
Oral histories onstage at the Goodman Theatre
LA HAVANA MADRID takes oral histories that Delgado personally gathered and puts them onstage, story theater style, under the direction of Cheryl Lynn Bruce for Teatro Vista. Once a rose-colored scrim lifts from the proscenium, the eight-person cast presents multi-hued recollections of getting a foothold in America. Accounts of racism, homesickness, immigration woes and police brutality coexist with those of young love, family reunions and summer ball games.
First seen at Steppenwolf Theatre and then Logan Square’s Miracle Center, LA HAVANA MADRID’s characters sparked a warm response from Goodman’s opening night audience. Krystal Ortiz as Maria, a 13-year-old newcomer from Cuba, ends up in a foster home with a bowl of shredded wheat for breakfast. Back home, she cries, “this is what cows eat.” Marvin Quijada is a vibrant Carpacho, an undocumented musician from Columbia who takes a day job cleaning garments on a conveyor belt. When an immigration inspector shows up, Carpacho’s boss tells him to hide amid the hanging clothes as the officer makes him turn the conveyor belt on.
LA HAVANA MADRID as a backdrop
Moment to moment, the individual stories come alive. Overall, however, the show strikes this viewer as lacking a compelling narrative and an accompanying rise in musical tension. Curiously, while Delgado and the band are present throughout, few scenes give a sense of the club itself. The actual place that inspired LA MADRID HAVANA remains a backdrop for the community that flourished around it. What brings the club’s magic home is the final scene in which the audience is invited to dance along with the cast, all heritages and abilities welcome.
For those willing to forgive unpolished storytelling, the show offers a loving appreciation of La Madrid Havana where many variations of a mother tongue breathed the same air. Same for the music which, as one character points out, has its own regional accents. If music be the food of fellowship, Delgado seems to suggest, La Havana Madrid played on until the neighborhood changed.
Now through August 20
Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 PM
Fridays at 8:00 PM
Saturdays at 2:00 & 8:00 PM
Sundays at 2:00 PM
170 N. Dearborn
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning, Emmy-nominated playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre.