Weaving a compelling tale that blended slice of life history with a decidedly Latino beat, Teatro Vista’s Sandra Delgado has written and stars in the highly entertaining new, La Havana Madrid, now playing at the Steppenwolf 1700 Theatre. Delgado is featured as the emcee on stage during the show, but she is truly the mastermind puppeteer and fairy godmother of the entire piece. Merging a Latin flavored mix of “fact, fiction and myth” the characterizations portrayed were composites, entirely inspired by real people Delgado interviewed whose stories touched her heart. La Havana Madrid also took inspiration in part by Tony Quintana’s book De Naguabo a Chicago: The Tony Quintana Story, Memorias De Un Boricua Ausente. Part love letter, part period piece, and a whole lot of fun, the stories displayed shared a common thread, all roads lead back to the saving grace that was the Club La Havana Madrid. Once housed at the corner of Belmont and Sheffield Avenues, Madrid was theWindy City hotspot where everyone went to see and to been seen. This heavenly haven once housed big-band mambo and salsa music, but today is now a distant memory, due in part to the passage of time and to neighborhood gentrification. Delgado felt compelled to revisit this previous paradise, with shared memories that should never be allowed to just be paved over. “This is our history” she said from the stage. “We are living on these layers. Learn from it. Honor it. Pass it on.”
Director Cheryl Lynn Bruce kept the pace and cues loose as the stories of this urban refuge were poetically spun. The narrative mixed an assortment of characters of Latino and Caribbean descent, all of whom eventually found their way to La Havana Madrid. We began with Maria (Krystal Ortiz) who recently relocated to escape the Cuban Revolution. While she may have lived with a Windy City suburban foster family in the 1960’s, her true home quickly became the dancefloor of the club. Henry and Maruja (Tommy Rivera-Vega and Phoebe Gonzalez) were the young couple making their new marriage work, although separated by a continent. Upon reuniting, they spent their anniversary, you guessed it, at the Madrid. Additional tales spun from Myrna (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel) Carlos (Donovan Diaz) Carpacho (Marvin Quijada) and Tony (Mike Oquendo) shared tales revolving around battling the aggressive white gangs, racism in the military and the police force and turf battles in the every changing neighborhoods of Chicago. All the while adorned in period appropriate garb, designed by Elsa Hiltner. Each story felt captivating and surprisingly relatable to the diverse audience. Hopeful but not earnest, every vignette transitioning into the next story with just a flick of the wrist of Delgado and a bit of dynamic William Carlos Angulo choreography.
By no means is Madrid a dry history lesson. The Steppenwolf 1700 space has been transformed into a club like atmosphere, including round tables, a live house band, Carpacho y Su Super Combo and full bar service. Reinforcing the authenticity of the story’s history on the night I attended, two women interviewed for this project were seated near me. Their tears flowed while we briefly spoke at intermission, both praising Delgado for getting their stories so right. The recreated nightclub atmosphere is an immersive setting, music playing, cocktails flowing, and the audience invited and encouraged to participate in the salsa dancing more than once throughout the piece. Grounding the romanced and nuanced story, projection designer Liviu Pasare’s images form an easy to follow timeline on screens placed strategically at the corners of the stage. Heather Sparling’s lighting also punctuated the ethereal environment. Appropriately concluding the piece, Roberto Carpahio Marin, the Director of the house band, Carpacho y Super Combo, shared his story taking him from Columbia to Chicago. As the audience applauded, the rhythms of merengue, cumbia and bolero played on. To paraphrase a line from another famous Cubano, Gloria Estefan, the intoxicating rhythms of La Havana Madrid “are gonna get you.”
Beautifully structured and absorbingly told, La Havana Madrid is a beautiful piece of live theater to experience first hand. Told in the intimate setting of the Steppenwolf 1700 Theatre means that shows in this run are quickly selling out. I am in hopes this distinctive piece will extend, but trust me, please do not wait to get tickets for this one. You will definitely find yourself out of luck. The poignant portraits so dedicatedly painted by Delgado made La Havana Madrid a delicious and distinctive experience for all.
La Havana Madrid is now playing through May 28, 2017 at Steppenwolf 1700 Theatre