FOUR STARS: “A FEAST for the Soul”

FOUR STARS: “A FEAST for the Soul”

I do no mean to disparage the importance of school theater programs—I spent my formative years in black boxes and green rooms—when I say that Albany Park Theater Project’s revival of FEAST has more in common with Anna Deavere Smith and the devised, documentary-based work of Stephen Karam, the late PJ Paparelli and American Theater Company than it does with your local high school’s production of Once on this Island. Guided by Artistic Director David Feiner as well as the hugely talented and dedicated artistic staff of APTP, this 25-member youth ensemble presents an ambitious, engaging and delightful work that matches and in many cases exceeds anything currently playing in our city.

While the fact that FEAST is a student production may be its defining feature—beyond which there is a whole myriad of accolades to lavish upon this ensemble—it does not however mean that the production avoids adult subject matter. Drawn from over two-dozen interviews conducted by the students themselves and featuring stories of emigration from war torn homelands, ingrained misogyny and culturally supported gender inequality, a significant part of the evening focused on food stamps. Contrasted by three dramatic monologues, respectively celebratory, inquisitive and furious, this segment of the evening represented the synthesis of APTP’s three-pillared commitment to art, youth and justice.

A brilliantly devised physical and acrobatic spectacle, the food stamps segment found the students sharing painfully sensitive and illuminating stories about absent parents (mostly fathers), the inhumanity of the Department of Human Services, and the perceived judgment of receiving social welfare. One student related an interviewee’s complicated relationship to the unjust apparel-related expectations of high school and the humiliation of being forced to accept government assistance. “Just because you need help doesn’t mean you have to look like you need help,” she exclaimed to a chorus of snapping fingers from her peers who made up the bulk of the audience in the Owen Theatre at the Goodman on opening night bringing with them an unrestrained joy and deep admiration for the material and performances.

Feast is essential theatre not just due to its launch during the slow season of summer when there is little on stage that can compete with its enthusiasm and dramatic rigor. While our city’s adult-oriented theatres are helping so many artists live out full lives in the arts, Albany Park Theater Project is nurturing the creativity and, in many cases, changing the lives of Chicago teens. Anyone who spent time in the theatre as a young person knows the transformative power of performance. Theatre provides invaluable instruction on trust, self-expression and identity, lessons no less valuable whether you grew up in an affluent suburb or an ethnically diverse neighborhood in the city. Like the subjects of Feast themselves, Albany Park Theater Project has chosen to cultivate ground in an area too often ignored by the community at large. And yet, a bounty of talent, charisma and bravery grows up tall, strong and beautiful before our very eyes.

Feast runs through August 16th in the Owen Theater at the Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn Street, Chicago IL.

For tickets and more information visit