There is a whole lot more to food than the cooking and eating of it. And for anyone interested in exploring just how complex the global food chain is, and how emotionally varied and nuanced the role of food can be in people’s lives, there is no better dramatic meal now being served than “Feast.”
This enthralling new show, devised and performed by Albany Park Theater Project (APTP) – a company of sublimely gifted teenage actors deeply rooted in that Chicago neighborhood that is a hub for recently arrived immigrants from many countries – is nothing short of delicious.
“Feast” runs the gamut with its theatrical “dishes.” It muses on the joys and sorrows of having to depend on an Illinois Link Card (the debit card version of food stamps), with one actress enthusiastically extolling the joys of gliding down supermarket aisles, with an actor confessing that he feels the shame and resentment of having to depend on such aid and with another actress capturing the daunting (and wonderfully comic) process of filling out an application for such a card because her parents don’t speak English.
A beguiling, wide-eyed boy with a sweet tooth for chocolate reminds us of the grueling work done by those who labor in sugar cane fields. A boy from the Philippines describes, in the most enchanting way, how as a child he raised a cow that he eventually had to bring to market for slaughter. Seven wildly bewigged girls riff on the fact that they just might not be “all sugar and spice.” And a young Indian wife tries her best to perfect a recipe for lamb biryani to please her husband.
During the course of “Feast” we are also told “a true fairy tale” about a husband and wife from Peru who, after losing their jobs in the recession, decide to become tamale vendors. They don’t quite have the knack for it when they start, but blessed by a Mexican “fair godmother” who gives them her secret recipe, they soon become Albany Park’s most successful pushcart vendors.
All of these stories are brought to life with enormous wit and sensuality, thanks to the tremendously skilled work of a large and gifted ensemble that was also instrumental in the gathering and shaping of the stories.
The young actors have been superbly directed by David Feiner, APTP’s artistic director, in collaboration with Colby Beserra, Rossana Rodríguez Sánchez and Maggie Popadiak (who is responsible for the ingenious choreography). Mikhail Fiksel has supplied the fine sound design, with Stephanie Paul orchestrating a brilliantly percussive “butcher’s chorus” – just one of the production’s many highlights.
Set designed Scott C. Neale has created a sensationally organic backdrop (beautifully lit by Jeremy Getz), and Debbie Baer’s costumes have a beautiful world beat to them.