‘Home/Land’ moves to Goodman in timely remount
Hedy Weiss Sun-times THEATER critic July 11, 2013 8:34PM
Lilia Teresa Escobar plays a young Palestinian-American who becomes an immigrant rights activist in Albany Park Theater Project's Home/Land at the Goodman Theatre, July 18-28. (Photo: Amy Braswell)
July 18-28, Goodman Theatre’s Latino Festival, 170 N. Dearborn, $10-$25, (312) 443-3800; goodmantheatre.org
Updated: July 11, 2013 8:38PM
When David Feiner, co-founder and artistic director of the Albany Park Theatre Project (APTP), began work several years ago on “Home/Land” — a heart-wrenching, powerfully envisioned meditation on this country’s ongoing quandary about immigration — nearly a third of his unique teen ensemble were themselves undocumented immigrants. And at least half of his cast had family members who lived with that precarious label.
Such real life connections unquestionably fed the emotional intensity of this production which enjoyed an extended run at APTP’s home in the Eugene Field House on Chicago’s northwest side, became the focus of a feature on the PBS NewsHour in March, 2012, and will be remounted on the Goodman Theatre’s Owen stage (July 18-28), as part of this season’s Latino Theatre Festival.
Now there is more big news related to this production. “Chicagoland,” the new eight-episode Robert Redford-backed documentary set for an early 2014 airing on CNN, has been following two of APTP’s “youth actors” as they prepare for the “Home/Land” remount. With an immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate in late June now facing an uncertain future in the House of Representatives, APTP’s show only seems to grow in importance.
“We want to highlight the voices of youth in ‘Chicagoland,’ and APTP gives their creative expression center stage on key issues like immigration,” said Mark Benjamin, who also saw APTP’s “I Will Kiss These Walls,” its show about home foreclosure, and who, along with Mark Levin and Yoav Attias, is producing the series.
The “Home/Land” show is physically framed by giant towers of battered suitcases, and it is on the ever-shifting ground between those towers that a cast of nearly two dozen teens unspool a series of stories woven from a mix of personal experience and interviews. Beginning with the harrowing journey of a young father from Ecuador who is turned back at the very last minute, the show moves on to chronicle the story of a couple that makes it into the U.S. but is then torn apart after the father is ultimately deported. It portrays the activism of two feisty, 80-year-old Catholic nuns, and of an immigrant woman who works at a church mission in Chicago where those threatened with deportation find a temporary haven and legal help. And in a glitzy game show sequence, “Do You Want to Be An American?,” we watch as a spirited young Latino contestant is continually thwarted.
JP Marquez, 18, who plays a detainee who wants to break through a prison door to embrace his wife and son, has worked with APTP for five years and will be heading off to Beloit College in Wisconsin this fall. He openly talks about his own “undocumented” status, having arrived here from the Philippines with his family at the age of eight.
“I only began learning about my situation when I was in seventh grade,” said Marquez. “My mom went into the hospital for cancer treatment and I turned on a Filipino TV station where I kept hearing talk about ‘TNT.’ I looked it up on the Internet and found out it translated as ‘hiding and hiding,’ the expression used to describe the undocumented. When I confronted my parents they began telling me about all the limitations I would face in terms of getting a driver’s license, or Federal funding or student loans for college. And suddenly my future was gone; it was like looking to the horizon and seeing no sun.”
But at the urging of a friend he became involved with APTP and started to meet other undocumented kids whose big plans made him see he could succeed. He credits a winter retreat in Feiner’s living room, where he and other members of the APTP company worked on college application essays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for helping him get him into Beloit, where he plans to study biology(“my first love”), but also hopes to continue doing “theater for a reason, not just entertainment.”
Stephanie Castrejon, 19, whose family is Mexican, was born in the U.S., and she is “legal.” A summer workshop with APTP at the age of 16 was her first exposure to theater. As soon as she closes in the Goodman remount of “Home/Land,” in which she reprises her role as a woman who tries to keep her family going after her husband is deported, she will head back to the College of Wooster in Ohio, where she is considering a double major in anthropology and biology.
“Working on this show really made me an activist for immigrant and human rights,” said Escobar. “I realized the power I had to speak for those who are undocumented and too afraid to speak up for themselves.”