The same week Rome announced a new pope in 2005, a woman driving home from work spotted an image of the Virgin Mary on a discolored wall of Chicago's Fullerton Avenue underpass.
Inspired by real-life interviews, playwright Tanya Saracho renders the voices of those who were drawn to that wall in "Our Lady of the Underpass," Elgin Community College Theatre's spring production.
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If you goWhat: "Our Lady of the Underpass," a play based on a real-life event in Chicago
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays, April 19 and 26 and May 3; Saturdays, April 20 and 27 and May 4; and 3 p.m. Sundays, April 28 and May 5
Where: ECC Arts Center's SecondSpace Theatre in Building H, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin
Tickets: $11 for adults and $9 for students and seniors
Info: (847) 622-0300 or tickets.elgin.edu
Performances are set for Friday, April 19, to Sunday, May 5, in ECC Arts Center's SecondSpace Theatre. The play begins at the five-year anniversary of the sighting and is told in a series of monologues.
The audience meets an assortment of visitors to the makeshift shrine, including Tony, a self-appointed guardian of the shrine who travels to the underpass daily from his home in Elgin; Ofelia, a woman from Mexico who cares for her nephew with cerebral palsy; Matt, a cynical jogger who runs past the underpass regularly; Magdalena, a Polish-American nurse who brings her mother to worship at the shrine; Terri, a young woman who arrives at the shrine to seek solace from relationship issues with her fiancÚ; and Mrs. Shriver, a married woman who desperately wants to be a mother.
The play is directed by Azar Kazemi, a visiting director and theater adjunct faculty member. She is the founding artistic director of The Blind Owl, a collective of dedicated performers, artists, and activists. She is a graduate of DePaul University's MFA directing program and has worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Victory Gardens, Silk Road Rising, Next Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and Chicago Dramatists.
Kazemi is familiar with Saracho's work; she directed a staged reading of Saracho's play "Enfrascada" while at DePaul and had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with the playwright.
Kazemi said she enjoyed the opportunity to work with the actors in the ECC production and to watch them evolve. She took the cast to the shrine, which still exists today, to help connect them further with the play.
"I hope audiences take away a sense of community from the play," Kazemi says. "To remember that no matter who we are, what we believe, or where we are from -- we all need someone to talk to and to listen to our story."
Members of the cast include Alisa Goldberg (Algonquin), JosÚ Lopez (Elgin), Sonya Madrigal (Elgin), Sarah Merlo (Newcastle, Australia), Julien Moore (Elgin), Stephen Roos (Algonquin), Paula Smiech (Streamwood), Vera Sutfin (Carpentersville), and Eric Wagner (St. Charles).
"Our Lady of the Underpass" contains adult language and content. Tickets are $11 for adults and $9 for students and seniors. Tickets are available online at tickets.elgin.edu or at the ECC box office, (847) 622-0300.