A light illuminates the door at the top of a long flight of stairs. A young woman, moaning and wailing, moves with difficulty toward the steps, carrying an upside-down child around her neck. In slow-motion the woman tenderly releases the little girl who tumbles down the steep staircase toward her waiting siblings below. The brothers and sisters ritualistically clothe the baby in a prison-like uniform like their own and tuck her into a basket under the steps.
Eventually the basement dungeon is filled with 18 children working and occasionally playing together. The children’s papa (a difficult and frighteningly tyrannical role played by Vincent K. Meredith) is a fierce, fundamentalist Christian who doles out punishment to his children for their sins in the form of physical and emotional pain, and keeps his mute, submissive wife (played by Kyra Mae Robinson) eternally pregnant and giving birth. After some time, the eldest son rebels and the abusive father gets a taste of his own medicine, finally being forced from the house. With this new freedom all the children escape out into the world to be adopted (one hopes) by loving parents, but it is Rachel, the smallest child with the brightest smile (played with radiance by Maidenwena Alba), who emerges as the star of another story. She’s adopted by her aunt and uncle (although apparently they’d cared for her for a time when she was a baby), and the play ends happily in a baptism of love during which the foster parents bathe Rachel washing away her loneliness and pain.
This is Albany Park Theatre Project’s fourth collaborative piece, created by a group of multiethnic high school students and culled from true incidents plucked from their own life experiences. The company’s youth, their transformation from rage to stage and the resulting polished artistry is what makes this production so special.
This play had its origin in 2006 when one of their young company members confessed, “I learned to love when I was 10 years old.” This youngster’s years of unthinkable abuse inflicted by her father inspired the young company to develop Rachel’s story into a performance piece. Using little dialogue, the story unfolds stylistically incorporating music, sound, poetry, pantomime, dance and incorporating a lovely, faceless puppet as the baby girl.
That this horrendously ugly incident could be turned into such a terrifying, yet touching 80 minutes of beauty and redemption is a tribute to the children’s artistry and the guidance of directors David Feiner, Stephanie Paul, Maggie Popadiak and Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez. While not recommended for audiences under the age of 12, this beautiful, moving tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and love’s redemptive power is a must-see for everyone else.