Albany Park Theater Project's “Ofrenda” Offers Hope in Turbulent Times

An ofrenda (Spanish: “offering”) is a collection of objects placed on a ritual altar during the annual and traditionally Mexican Día de Muertos celebration.  In Ofrenda, the latest offering from the Albany Park Theater Project, the collection includes a La Virgencita, a teddy bear, a fan, a Superman t-shirt, a jar of Vicks VapoRub and 110 journals. This production features 33 talented performers between the ages of 13-18.  Performed in the Laura Wiley Theater (5100 N. Ridgeway Ave), a lovely converted attic space in the fieldhouse in Eugene Field Park, it is “a collection of real-life stories about creating home in turbulent times.”

“An ofrenda is an offering – in any sense of the word,” said playwright Isaac Gomez. “As part of Dia de los Muertos in Mexican culture, it is an altar with pictures, trinkets and memories of loved ones who have passed.  As part of day-to-day life, it is an altar of objects, candles, images that are central to the ideas of home, culture, identity and loved ones. As part of this production, an ofrenda is an offering from artist to audience, from the Albany Park community to the rest of the city.  It is an invitation, an offering of hope, friendship and love.”

The students’ performances are exactly right:  they are heartfelt, earnest, enthusiastic, and passionate. These kids have lived these stories in real life; most of them are first or second-generation immigrants. 

Stories and interludes curated by the members of the APTP and developed by Gomez are woven together with creative staging, dance, song, multimedia and ordinary props, including pop-up books, feathers, costumes and suitcases.

Most compelling is the story of an artistic Syrian girl whose family is forced to flee Damascus after the bombing starts and her father is detained.  In this vignette, she shows idyllic life before the violence and what happens after when she mourns not only the dead, but the lives that her family might have led if they could have remained in their homeland. An Ecuadorian girl, brought to the U.S. as a child, struggles with deciding which country is “home.”  A Filipino teen sent to private school “with all its whiteness,” relays the anguish of life in a traditional religious family after the suicide of a trans sibling. A University of Chicago student shares the constant worry of being undocumented in the days before DACA and the joy at finding a safe place at her first “Coming Out of the Shadows” rally. A group of young immigrants join their first demonstration and find leadership in Genoviva Ramirez, the Berwyn grandmother of 10 who avoided deportation in September 2017. Much like their counterparts at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, these teens are finding their political voices through protest: “We are the leaders we need.”

The stories have a common theme of looking for place, turning “here into home” and trying to balance cultural heritage with a new reality.

The Albany Park Theater Project was started 21 years ago to provide “a multiethnic, youth theater ensemble that inspires people to envision a more just and beautiful world. We are dedicated to art, to youth, and a vision of social justice.”  Productions like Ofrenda are proof that they are committed to that mission.

Ofrenda runs through June 2. (Laura Wiley Theater, 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave


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