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Latinos alone at Yo Solo

Two-thirds of this new festival is don't-miss stuff

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This is turning out to be one hell of a summer for Latino theater in Chicago. The fiesta started for me early last month with Oedipus el Rey, Luis Alfaro's barrio tragedy, in a tremendous production at Victory Gardens Theater. Then came Halcyon Theatre's ragged but enlightening Alcyone Festival, this year featuring four plays by Mexican women. And now there's Yo Solo, a fierce new (and, we're promised, annual) event bringing together solo works by Latino artists. A joint presentation of Teatro Vista and Collaboraction, Yo Solo offers three programs consisting of two performances apiece.

If you can attend only one of the three, well, then you've got a difficult choice to make. I can see dispensing with "Program A," pairing pieces by Febronio Zatarain and Lisandra Tena. Performed in Spanish with English supertitles, Zatarain's densely written collection of character studies, La Risa de Dios, is difficult enough for monolinguals like me; his failure to render those characters vividly makes the effort seem Sisyphean at times. Tena is an engaging presence, but her four-course "menu" of short sketches, Guera, lacks rigor.

Programs B and C, on the other hand, are both don't-miss affairs.

"Program B" offers two very fine works by women. KJ Sanchez's Highway 47 is equal parts family saga and investigative reportage: a look at the destruction of the New Mexican community in which she grew up and the poisoning of blood ties going back centuries. Gracefully directed by Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Sandra Delgado's Para Graciela is a romantic reverie based on fact yet reminiscent of something magical by Isabel Allende. The first piece on "Program C," Rey Andújar's Antipoda, is as interesting for its potential as for what's actually onstage. Simultaneously buoyant and intense, Andújar is a poet inching away from the security of the microphone; when the divorce is final, he'll be formidable. Sharing the bill with Andújar, finally, is Juan Francisco Villa, whose Empanada for a Dream isn't just fully realized but, for my money, the best entry in the festival. Harrowing, hilarious, absurd, brave, incredibly well crafted yet terrifying in its rage, Villa's memoir of growing up in the drug culture of Manhattan's lower east side reminds me of nothing so much as William Carlos Williams's advice to readers of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl": "Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell."

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