Albany Park Theater Project’s FEAST a Grocery Cart of Wonders

Albany Park Theater Project’s FEAST a Grocery Cart of Wonders

In a Chicago summer marked by an unusual number of outstanding shows, the most remarkable one of all is “Feast.”

A unique celebration of the role food plays in the lives of this city’s immigrant families, this altogether astonishing work has been devised by the Albany Park Theater Project (APTP), a creative universe that simply has no equal. And it is being performed by the 25 members of that youth ensemble (ages 13 through 18), who easily can compete with any Equity cast, and make the Goodman Theatre, which has served as APTP’s summertime host for five seasons, feel like a natural home.

Directed by master artists and mentors David Feiner, Mikhail Fiksel, Halena Kays, Stephanie Paul, Maggie Popadiak and Rosanna Rodriguez Sanchez, the teenage performers display a virtuosity, ease, charm, polish, humor, political bite and, above all, an emotional depth and cohesive spirit that, ideally, should be experienced rather than described.

After all, how do you explain the magical way in which, early on in the show, the performers gradually congregate to create a bustling world market, complete with an incantation built from different musical languages, conveyances (bicycle cart, red wagon, baskets), foods and sales pitches? At once a thrilling assemblage of their countries of origin, it also is an ideal evocation of the melting pot in which they now live.

And there is so much more – from a flirtatious exchange of snacks, to a tale of great comedy and pathos about how a young man’s Filipino grandfather raised a cow from infancy to day of slaughter, complete with sound effects from a cow bell and the chomping of celery.

The power and pain that comes with possession of a LINKS (food stamps) card is explored by two very different girls – one who can’t wait for its arrival each month so she can careen through the aisles of Aldi’s with a grocery cart and stock up on every forbidden pleasure, and another who sees Aldi’s as such a mark of debasement that she pressures her mother to shop at Jewel.

Another wonderful scene finds the brainy 11-year-old English-speaking daughter of an immigrant family charged with filling out the forms required to get such food stamps, and has her delving into a massive dictionary to clarify the meaning of such terms as “mortgage,” “gross income” and “citizen.” Equally wondrous is how a teen boy deftly turns himself into a fortysomething man who looks back at how his Puerto Rican grandfather (whose spirit is beautifully captured by a guitarist/singer in the group), spent his entire life toiling in the sugar cane fields of Puerto Rico.

A sensational, even downright subversive section of the show is devoted to the repression and rebellion of women. Bertolt Brecht would surely have cheered the way 10 girls play demented “sugar and spice” dolls from around the world (Izumi Inaba’s ethnic costumes are beyond brilliant), comically singing and dancing about what is expected of women, from marriage to expert cooking skills. The mood then grows more solemn as a young Indian wife describes her painstaking efforts to please her husband with his favorite dish.

A gathering of butchers, led by the son of a Lebanese immigrant, brings the show to a thrilling crescendo as the men all wield their knives like drumsticks on butcher block tables. And then the women gather to discover their hidden power in recipes for mole sauce.

On Scott C. Neale’s circle-and-runway set (a glamorous rendering of the stage at APTP’s home base in the Eugene Field Park fieldhouse), the distinctive moves, faces and personalities of each performer conjure radiant moments of tragedy, comedy and heartrending truth. A rare experience on every level.

Finally, there is this statistic: Most of the company’s alums, primarily children of immigrants, were the first in their family to attend college, and 70% of them completed four year programs at an impressive roster of schools. Bravos all around.

Highly recommended
When: Through Aug. 16
Where: Albany Park Theater Project at
Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
Tickets: $10-$25
Info: (312) 443-3800;
Run time: 1 hour and 25 minutes
with no intermission