The Germans and Swedes came first. Next are the Russian Jews, a group that remained dominant until the 1960s. By the late 1980s there were Koreans, Filipinos, Mexicans, and Guatemalans. And Somalis, Pakistanis, Romanians, Cambodians, Burmese and people from the former Yugoslavia and, and, and. In this century, the Chicago neighborhood of Albany Park was considered one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country.
The 26-year-old Albany Park Theater Project now has a new home on Montrose Avenue, in the heart of Albany Park. Children who spend their summers and part of their school years working in a youth theater company are typically the second or third generation of their family to reside in Chicago. And inside an old storage warehouse, the company paid homage to first-comers.
And frankly, that’s what went through my mind when I saw “Port of Entry” last week. Most of us realize that we stand on the shoulders of our parents and grandparents, even though it may take us several years to realize this truth. But very few of us, especially when we are young, get a chance to express who we are, why we are, where we are.
The talented youngsters in this show have all been taught that great theater is always meant to take a breather and drink the possibilities of the moment, they are given a gift and run with it in the fake apartment their company has built. Working with Third Rail Projects, this portal has been built into it.
Only 28 people can watch this immersive show at a time. In essence, you are led by a player to the apartment building, as if you were a guest of the entire building (it’s not real, but you swear otherwise). You share drinks and snacks and watch cultural parades. You share the worry and sadness about losing a family member or job who is having trouble crossing the border. You spend time in kitchens and living rooms and even outside in places that feel like a porch or pocket urban backyard.
From time to time you are taken to someone’s private space; not everyone experiences the same show, and while the piece is hyper-realistic – you sometimes find yourself squeezing in that these spaces are artificial – it’s not limited to ordinary reality. Teens take you into their lockers and show their worries and dreams, which often manifests physically with elements of the natural world. Most of the time you do something with the actors: you craft, you dance, you participate in rituals, you play. Lottery. It’s all warm, forgiving, fun.
Neophytes in APTP usually fly away. Despite the fact that it’s about emotional intensity and commitment, they don’t always know why. Of course I’ve watched many of their shows over the years, so I know what this theater is doing, although not always how. But even by those lauded historical standards, “Port of Entry” is an astonishing work; The players are simply great, but you will most likely leave feeling the pulse of this physical environment. There’s a lot to be said for this show not being in a theater but where it’s claimed to be.
At some point in the production, which takes about two hours to experience, the piece transforms into something different from the experiences of each of the established families, as performed at least in part by children who grew up with these traditions.
There is a room devoted to a port of entry in the widest possible sense: the idea that certain places have deep familial histories. Museums are one thing, but there are apartments in Chicago that have housed successive generations of immigrant families from around the world, hosted parties, been the site of their grief and loss. They continued. The old apartments remain.
If you go and watch this show—which you really should see, because it’s beautiful, fresh, and a work of compromise—you’ll never be traveling through Albany Park again without turning your head and looking back at its windows.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Port of Entry” 4 stars
When: By August 12 (sold out); followed by October 6 – December 16; 2024 dates will be announced
Where: APTP in Montrose, 3547 W. Montrose Ave.
Working time: 2 hours
Tickets: Pay what you want at 773-866-0875 (recommended $70) or portofentrychicago.com