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Chicago Sun-Times

Albany Park Theater Project’s latest work hits home

Hedy Weiss - Theater Critic

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‘I Will Kiss These Walls,” the latest production of the remarkable Albany Park Theater Project, is astonishing from first scene to last, including one of the more thrilling opening sequences to be found in any show now on stage in this city.

It begins as a lone construction worker rolls his wheelbarrow onto a ramplike performance space framed by the skeletons of two houses. Gradually, that one man is joined by many, and in what is nothing short of a full-fledged symphony of labor, hammers are used to beat out a powerful rhythm, window frames get hung, cinder blocks are moved by means of a tightly synchronized assembly line, six powerfully built guys circle in a powerful stomp and a thrilling percussive ballet takes full shape.

Endless credit must go to the immensely imaginative and, more crucially, the uniquely idealistic “adult” creators of this show (David Feiner, Maggie Popadiak, Mikhail Fiksel, Stephanie Paul, Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, JP Marquez), and a superb team of designers (Scott C. Neale, Izumi Inaba, Jeremy Getz, Maria DeFabo). But what really blows you away here is the multi-ethnic ensemble of 31 young performers, who range in age from 13 to 20, and who possess a level of discipline, skill, emotional heat and commitment that is beyond professional. Anyone who doubts the power of arts in education will surely be converted by their work. (As in years past, there is an “honor roll” at the end of the show saluting all those heading off to college this fall.) But beyond that, this is theater of the highest standards, and this is a production that not only grabs your heart but pricks your conscience.

A year in the making, “I Will Kiss These Walls,” was developed as an outgrowth of the epidemic of foreclosures that, since 2008, have hit this country, and Chicago in particular. As always, the company-devised show grew out of primary research, including interviews with about two dozen people who faced the loss of their houses, a look at the different circumstances that led to the loss, the profound pain that comes with eviction and the destruction of a dream, as well as the efforts of activists to face down bankers and politicians.

Many of the stories involve multi-generational immigrant families who invested sweat equity in the rehabilitation of their houses and then were struck with illness, death, hospital bills, flooding or the loss of a job that made years of payments go up in smoke in a matter of months. (The use of “The Wizard of Oz” theme at a few choice moments, especially in the wake of last week’s calamitous tornado in Oklahoma, only drove all these points home more sharply.)

Space prevents singling out each of the formidable performers, but among the standouts are the luminous Paloma Morales, Vincent K. Meredith as her grandfather; Randy Kim Dang as one of the dispossed, Lilia Teresa Escobar as a woman who will not be ignored and Paul Rico as one of the “Suits.”

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