FOUR STARS: “A FEAST of Cuisines and Cultures”

FOUR STARS: “A FEAST of Cuisines and Cultures”

FEAST, the new production by the Albany Park Theater Project at Goodman Theatre, is indeed a feast of color, sounds, cuisines and ethnicities, celebrating Chicago's diverse food culture. It's totally appropriate that it comes to us from Albany Park, one of Chicago's most diverse neighborhoods. FEAST tells the stories of how food, its paucity and its plenty, plays a role in family lives and celebrations.

The Albany Park Theater Project, a multiethnic youth theater ensemble, first mounted the show in 2010. This year's revival is based on additional research by company members and is staged in the round for the first time, which helps to create a communal atmosphere.

Directed by APTP artistic director David Feiner [and a team of 5 directors], the lively 90-minute production begins in a world marketplace where the 25 performers sing and perform percussive dances. Other scenes move to a farm in the Philippines where we learn about a boy and his cow. (The young actors use their sound effects enthusiastically to narrate the life of the cow and the boy.) Then the acrobatic Meena cavorts with her shopping cart in a supermarket as she spends her LINK card, and the brainy Maia fills out the family application for food stamps (with the help of a big dictionary).

In other scenes, we learn how to cook lamb biryani and meet a vibrant collection of 10 "sugar and spice" dolls from around the world, who educate us about gender roles. "Most valued of all / No matter your look / To land a good man / Learn how to cook!"

In a Lebanese butcher shop on the corner of Kedzie and Leland, Hassan tells us, "Whatever the customer wants, we cut it for them. My customers, I have Arabs, Mexicans, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos. Everybody's different."

Finally, the most touching and dramatic scene is the "Feria del Mole" festival where six young women in festival dress demonstrate how they each make their own special version of the famous Mexican sauce. To create this scene, ensemble members interviewed and learned the secret mole recipes and cultural traditions from moleras at a women's collective at Universidad Popular in Little Village.

The women's stories relate to more than food. One sells her food on the street, another has left her husband and moved to Chicago, and another says,

"My mole is made with the courage
of a woman who escaped
From a small town in Guerrero
I crossed the border and left

"So I came to this new country
And I gave birth on this soil
And I've worked hard every day
and made this land my new home

"My mole can melt the ice
and bring heat into these winters
roasted chiles add the spice
ripe plantain adding the sweetness."

The 25 talented performers are all Chicago high school students. Five of them are new middle-school graduates and four will go on to college this fall. Director Feiner says that a new APTP project always begins "with a theme or question about our city or country ... that perhaps isn't being explored on stage." In FEAST, they wanted to explore how food nourishes and connects entire communities as well as the role food plays during migrations.

In addition to Feiner, the directing team includes Mikhail Fiksel, Halena Kays, Stephanie Paul, Maggie Popadiak and Rosanna Rodriguez Sanchez. The circular stage with runways in Goodman's Owen Theatre is an excellent platform for the staging of FEAST, designed by Scott C. Neale, with lighting design by Lee Keenan, and sound design and original music by Fiksel. The vivid and varied costuming was created by Izumi Inaba. Two screens on opposite sides of the theater display Spanish or English translations, but there really should have been more screens since they didn't seem to be easily visible to all audience members.

No food is consumed by audience members in FEAST, although by the end of the production, I was thinking fondly of a plate of lamb biryani with pappadums or perhaps some chicken mole.

The Albany Park Theater Project stages FEAST at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., through August 16. Performances are at varied times Thursday through Sunday with tickets for $10-$25 available by calling 312-443-3800 or online at