It’s a Tuesday night, and Pritzker Pavilion is packed. Folks are filling the seats, and even more are filling the grassy area behind with chairs and blankets. The air is filled with excited chatter and laughter. Looking around, you might have seen groups sharing a picnic, or friends noticing each other from afar and waving their friends over to join their blankets. As the stage lights came on and the music began – cueing the beginning of Zulema, it was impossible —at least for this writer — not to feel the excitement radiating from every filled blanket and seat in the park that evening.
Goodman Theatre Presents ZULEMA
Written by Dolores Diaz and directed by Marcela Muñoz, Zulema centers on the title character as she relives her journey from Chiapas to Chicago. When Grown Zulema/Mamá’s (Jazmín Corona) daughter, Itzel (Mía Nevarez) asks her to tell the story, Zulema explains that it was through this journey she learned to dance. In her retelling, as young Zulema hits each major city or neighborhood along the way, more than 50 different musicians and dancers join the cast to showcase the sights and sounds of the journey. Goodman partnered with performers, ensembles, and companies from all over the city, creating what this writer experienced as a thrilling, musical spectacle from start to finish.
When Zulema reaches Chinatown for example, Goodman utilized a partnership with Hao Dance. As Zulema describes what she sees, photos of Chinatown fill the screen at the back of the stage. Images of the neighborhood scroll through, transporting the audience to the familiar sites of the Chinatown Gate and neighboring restaurants. Slowly, female dancers enter in dresses of bright pink, green, and orange – with water sleeves that extend almost to the floor. They wave parasols in the air, and dance around Zulema who is completely entranced in their movement. In this way, the play is less a story than a showcase of music and dancing from various ports in between Chiapas and Chicago.
Heartfelt, Emotional Storytelling
Towards the end of this multi-layered piece, we see young Zulema land in Pilsen — the final stop along her journey where the kindness of an older woman, Corona, in a small, intimate moment, brings us full circle in the story, reminding us that no one is ever truly alone.
Those who enjoy a wide palate of music would find much to enjoy in Zulema. This is light entertainment—and an especially enjoyable break from pandemic monotony. Those seeking complex character-driven plots won't find that here.
This was the final performance of Zulema. Goodman Theatre performances continue throughout the year.
For tickets and information, see the Goodman Theatre website.
Images courtesy of Goodman Theatre