She bordered on the farcical during her wacky Latina phase with her contributions for Teatro Luna (“S-E-X-Oh!” & “Lunatic(a)s”). She then pulled a John Leguizamo and gave us a gallery of powerful solo spots with “Quita Mitos.” “Kita y Fernanda” turned her into a Chicana Chekhov with its absorbing memory play magic. And the “Hoodoo” comedy “Jarred” saw her let her hair down and produce a lighthearted and funny Feminist drama a la early Wendy Wasserstein. Now, with her production of “Our Lady of the Underpass” for Teatro Vista, Saracho is threatening to become Anna Deveare Smith.
Besides defying expectations, Saracho’s most impressive gift as a writer has always been her ability to take stereotypes (Latino, Caucasian, whatever) and transform them into sympathetic real characters. It’s the one constant throughout the aforementioned canon, and it’s on full display in her latest work, in which an alleged 2005 sighting of the image of the Virgin Mary under the Chicago Fullerton underpass becomes less an excuse for dogma and more a catalyst for some deeply personal, hilarious and memorable character studies into a cross section of Windy City residents.
Who could resist the manic young bride-to-be whose fiancé unexpectedly introduces scat into the bedroom. (“Dr. Phil’s not going to have a show about mierda lovers, you know?”) Or the self-proclaimed “guardian of the underpass” who dreams of marrying and becoming a deacon, if only he could acknowledge his unhealthy obsession with Yahoo Messenger and Internet sex. Speaking of denial, there’s the potentially closeted business yuppie whose daily jog under the Fullerton underpass has been inconvenienced due to the crowds at the “urban altar.” There’s the punkish Polish nurse who smokes and swears like a sailor, but still brings her elderly mother to pray at the underpass. And who could forget the unshakable faith of the Mexican caretaker of a severely handicapped boy. Or the unshakable faith from other voices that their Lady of the Underpass will bring Chicago better roads, their spouses slimmer physiques and themselves more patience with bad drivers.
If the piece rises above mere transcription journalism—Saracho’s original writing is based on actual on-site interviews—it’s because cumulatively the lighthearted monologues achieve depth and show us real people dealing with real questions of faith and identity, all across the spectrum. I don’t think Saracho’s point is to determine whether the Fullerton underpass is actually blessed with the image of a holy symbol, or just stained with oil and debris. Maybe, in this cynical day and age, she’s just glad something happened that could force these topics back onto our radars. Probably the best compliment I can pay Saracho and director Sandra Marquez’s wonderfully paced production is that it took me back to a trip I made to Berlin in December of 1989, just as thousands of Europeans were flocking to and congregating at a huge concrete wall. I may not have been capable of sharing the same emotions they felt towards a great cultural symbol, but I sure could respect their feelings. Likewise, after watching “Our Lady of the Underpass” I may not have had my faith reinforced by the idea of a holy underpass around Fullerton, but I’m sure glad someone else did. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln, Thu-Fri 8pm/Sat 8:30 pm/Sun 3pm. $35. Through March 29.