Beginning in 1995, the Cabrini-Green public housing project on Chicago’s Near North Side was demolished and residents were forcibly relocated.
Playwright Inda Craig-Galván, “Welcome to Matteson!” envisions a dinner party between a couple who have moved from Cabrini-Green to a southwestern suburb and another long-term resident in that suburb.
The Congo Square Theater Company is producing this black comedy as part of the National New Play Network’s World Premiere, which will take place from September 6 to October 1. 1 in Abbott Hall on Northwestern University’s Chicago campus. It is also produced by the New Jersey Repertory Company.
Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 19:00 and Saturday-Sunday at 14:00; There is no performance on September 9 at 14:00.
“I grew up in Chicago,” said Craig-Galván, a Los Angeles-based playwright. “I moved to Park Forest around the same time that Cabrini-Green residents were relocated. Years later, the question ‘Do you want these people to move to your neighborhood?’ I saw a hand-drawn brochure of a thief who had come in through the window.
Craig-Galván said he thought it was horrible and racist. Because of the pamphlet’s anonymity, the playwright began to imagine who might have created it and put it in their mailbox.
“What if it’s someone like me?” he thought.
Craig-Galván said this led to him creating the character of Patricia Griffith, an African-American woman who “has a sense of what home means and wants to protect it at all costs.”
The scene of the play is a dinner party organized by Patricia and her husband Gerald for their new neighbors Regina and Corey Baker.
“This is a game that looks at our values and what we hold important. And how far people are willing to go to protect it,” said Craig-Galván.
This play is a black comedy, although it touches on serious topics. “Comedy often comes from people being themselves when they’re not fully prepared,” said the playwright.
Fresh from her acclaimed performance in “Marie and Rosetta” at the Northlight Theatre, Alexis J. Roston plays Regina Baker, whose family has moved from Cabrini-Green.
“Regina is a smart cookie,” said Roston. “He grew up in Cabrini-Green and we know all the terrible stereotypes people have in mind about people living in Cabrini-Green. He is an exception to this stereotype.”
Regina shatters that stereotype for everyone living in that housing project. Roston said Regina told the dinner hosts: “Cabrini is the same with the people you interact with, just different experiences, just different tax brackets, just different access.”
The woman clearly states that she is happy wherever she lives. Roston explains that his character’s philosophy is, “It doesn’t matter where I am. The only thing that matters is what’s inside you.”
The actress added that Regina is a nonsensical person who defends her beliefs.
Roston noted that while Regina talked about how alike they all were, there was a big difference between the two couples’ relationships in their marriage.
“Patricia has a certain aura towards her and Gerald knows she’s getting married,” Roston said, which means she often says, “Yes dear.” “Corey and Regina see each other all the time,” Roston said. “Even when they disagree, they communicate in a way that no one has to walk away with an attitude.”
Artistic Director Ericka Ratcliff, who directed the black comedy, said, “We wanted to stage this show because ‘Welcome to Matteson!’ “Although it’s a Chicago story,” he said.
“This is about the city’s very troubled recent past, where projects all over the city, especially in this Cabrini-Green game, were shut down and all these people settled in the outskirts of the city. This play revisits recent history through a comedy lens; thus allowing us to observe what is going on, but also to have a dialogue about how this is affecting our communities.”
The director said that part of the comedy is based on miscommunications that occur between couples who experience very different circumstances.
“The characters are big personalities, so the way they clash is pretty funny,” explained Ratcliff.
Ratcliff noted that one couple worked hard to have a suburban lifestyle, while the other couple found themselves in the suburbs because they were displaced.
Regarding the characters, Ratcliff observed: “Their inner struggles are based on what they think they deserve and what they think they should protect.”
As this is a world premiere, playwright Craig-Galván attended the first few rehearsals in Congo Square via Zoom and had discussions with the cast and creative team. He will also attend the screening of the game.
Another play by Craig-Galván, “A Hit Dog Will Holler”, opened on August 29 at the Artemisia Theater in Chicago.
“I’ve wanted to do a production in Chicago ever since I started writing,” he said. “I’ve finally doubled down and I feel like it’s raining goodness right now.”
‘Welcome to Matteson!’
When: September 6-October. one
Where: Congo Square Theater Company, Abbott Hall, Northwestern University, 710 N. DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Tickets: $45; $75 includes a second ticket for one community member
Information: 773-296-1108; kongosquaretheatre.org
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance correspondent for Pioneer Press.