Victory Gardens Revives Hit for a Very Different Era
What is it like to be a first-generation American citizen in a place that is widely regarded as the epitome of non-descript assimilation? A bit of a head-trip, apparently…
Brian Quijada’s autobiographical Where Did We Sit on the Bus? was a critical and crowd favorite when it premiered last year, and now it’s back under the direction of Chay Yew as part of Victory Gardens three-part Up Close & Personal series. Using rap, physical comedy, and live music, Quijada describes his childhood in the wealthy northern suburbs just twenty years ago, when teachers commonly had no idea where Latinos were for most of the United States’ history.
One Family’s American Dream
The show begins with Quijada playing a brief melody on a ukulele, which he uses a live looping machine to provide a beat for himself as he describes the impetus for this show. He recently married a woman of Austrian/Swiss heritage, and while observing her family and his Salvadorian guests at their wedding, who had nothing else in common, he began thinking about how he would educate their hypothetical children about their heritages. He decides to do that by telling the story of his life, which begins with the rap “Boom—Come Out the Womb.”
This, of course, is the beginning of the show’s humor. Quijada is a master of rhyming couplets, many of which require clever wordplay or elastic pronunciation. As a very anxious newborn, he demands to know whether his parents can afford him, and living in a trailer park in Glenview with three other sons, it seems like they barely can. But things improve with time, and the family winds up moving to Highwood with Quijada attending school in Highland Park.
Dance, Acting, and Live Looping as a Calling
It is there that Quijada becomes aware that his circumstances and heritage are different from those of the other kids. When he asked a teacher the show’s titular question, he was met with an ignorant non-answer. He also learns that there are Latinos who resent him for befriending wealthy Jews, and that dance and other performances are a way for him to express and take pride in himself. He even knew he wanted to dedicate his life to the stage as a teenager. Quijada’s parents didn’t understand this. To them, it appeared that he was throwing away their hard-earned economic success and didn’t really appreciate what they had been through.
The show fully vindicates Quijada’s talent as a performer. His impressions of his rambunctious nine-year-old self and his irritable father are side-splittingly hilarious. His movements allow him to paint a scene just by taking a few steps. And, his live looping sets up the emotional punch of every story. As for his political awakening, he doesn’t let us off with such a feel-good ending. Quijada makes a poignant plea for Dreamers and well-intentioned people like his parents who fled intolerable conditions to contribute to our country. He knows he was lucky, but shouldn’t everyone get his chance?
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
About the Author
Jacob Davis is a freelance writer and dramaturge. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of dramatic literature and interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham. His professional work includes developing new performance pieces such as The Blues Ain’t a Color. Since moving to Chicago in 2014 he has reviewed theatre, written articles, and conducted interviews for a number of websites.