The Albany Park Theater Project describes itself as a “multiethnic, youth theater ensemble that inspires people to envision a more just and beautiful world.”
At the curtain drop of the troupe’s latest production, a remounting of its 2010 “downtown debut,” “Feast,” ANTP Artistic Director David Feiner confessed to pride in the college attendance rate of the program’s graduates equal to satisfaction with the show. Many of the company’s committed children matriculate and become first generation university students from hardworking immigrant families. It’s an inspiring accomplishment and message in a post-Great Recession country where the American Dream often feels more elusive than ever.
APTP is a worthy non-profit, deserving of the Chicago theater community’s patronage. It would be so even if it produced mediocre artistic offerings. Luckily for all parties, including fans of good work, Albany Park Theater Project offers some of the most exciting, visceral, rhythmic storytelling in the Windy City. “Feast” marks the company’s fifth straight partnership season with the legendary Goodman Theatre.
Having been privileged enough to see and review the group’s 2013 foreclosure crisis-themed stunner, “I Will Kiss These Walls,” as well as a later examination of the nation’s broken immigration system, “Home/Land,” I have long admired the intersection of bold socioeconomic commentary, good writing and go-for-broke performances that are the hallmarks of an APTP experience.
Moreover, the results are completely unforced. With “Feast,” billed per press materials as “a 90-minute piece that explores food’s role in nourishing individuals and communities,” the group’s 2010 class did their research. Collaborating with adult theater mentors, the young artists “conducted more than two dozen interviews,” resulting in a script that asks a briskly paced series of existential questions. How does hunger (or abundance) affect personal security, the soul, the creative spirit, pride and family?
Though the APTP vision and mission is bigger than any one year’s cast, the quality of the performances in “Feast” is simply overwhelming — in all the right and sometimes purposely painful ways. A prime example occurs in the Link Card vignette. Featuring three young ladies with diametric views of the digital food stamps, the script is brave enough to consider Link as an application process fraught with bilingual tension, a source of well-fed joy, however brief, and a bottomless source of social shame. There are no wrong interpretations and no judgment.
But there are amazing acrobatic feats, a child’s soliloquy and an angry, defiant determination to break the cycle of poverty. Three voices and a full picture of an issue that is finally gaining the increased attention it deserves with this decade’s Occupy Wall Street movement, the rise of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s voice and the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders.
Income inequality is having its moment, but as “Feast” makes clear, issues of hunger and want go back generations — to the fields of the Philippines and the villages of Mexico, as well as the cities, suburbs and towns in the United States. Food is wrapped in ritual, in love, in opportunity, in perceived success. However the weight of these concerns are nicely balanced in the production through stylistic APTP trademarks that lighten the load.
The kids transition in and out of the performance with a unified percussive display that demands their feet, hands and copious energy to make a joyful but large statement. We are here. This issue is here. And none of us are going anywhere until we figure it out. Because people who work hard and dream should have enough in their bellies to sustain their bodies and spirits.
It’s tough to single out any one performer from the harmoniously accomplished cast of 25. There are beautiful but haunting voices, dancers, drummers, gymnasts, physical comedians and touching dramatists. The tapestry of an imperfect reality held up for our collective examination. Albany Park Theater Project’s triumphant “Feast” is a deliberately hungry celebration of the company’s past, in the critical present, that deserves a very popular near future. See it.
“Feast” runs through August 16 at the Goodman Theatre, 1170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-443-3800 or visit the Goodman Theatre website.