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The Palace (and other Pilsen Ghost Stories)



The palace (and other pilsen Ghost stories), Blue Rider Theatre. The ghost of a young opera tenor searches for his identity with the assistance of a hypnotherapist. The impresario of a vaudeville house laments the growing popularity of motion pictures. And a hippie-punk writer rents a ramshackle theater from a landlord wary of the encroaching gentrification that his new tenant represents.

What ties these experiences together is their locale--the Palace Theater at 18th and Halsted streets, now called the Blue Rider Theatre. Pablo Helguera's The Palace (And Other Pilsen Ghost Stories) is no straightforward historical documentary, however, but a mosaic of events characterizing this south-side neighborhood's transition from Czech-Polish railroad settlement to Chicago's Little Mexico. A 360-degree staging with the audience at the center helps us see through the eyes of Pilsen's citizens as they endure the upheaval of inevitable change.

Helguera's script is still in need of some fine-tuning: the therapist's lyrical but annoyingly abstract philosophizing could be cut by two-thirds, and the multifocused narrative is a bit hard to pin down. But the production forged by directors Tim Fiori and Scott Heckman coheres, and its delicate sense of purpose is as engaging as its message of reconciliation is liberating.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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