Aqui Estoy (I Am Here), Albany Park Theater Project, at Eugene Field Park. Five stories capture the immigrant experience in Chicago over the past 150 years. Unfortunately this bloated show comes alive only toward the end, and tedious pacing, awkward staging, and clumsy transitions highlight its need of editing. Most of the young cast simply recite their lines rather than give the sense that their characters are remembering events or feeling emotions.
A farmer's optimism in 1853 sets the tone, capturing the hope for a better life. Then women wail and bombs drop, but in which country? By the time it becomes clear that it's Bosnia, a language barrier and screened panels that nearly mask the action have lost us. Next is a sporadically funny story recalling Jewish family life during the Depression. But we aren't really engaged until a group of jornaleros tell their stories of sneaking into America, standing by the road hoping to get work from a contractor looking for cheap labor. The jornaleros section often overcomes the actors' inexperience: physical gestures and a vocal soundscape suggesting hard work and desperation enhance the line readings.
What works best is the final story, performed with great intensity by Michael Nyugen. This heartfelt account of a young illegal alien longing for a social security number is haunting. All the stories show hardship, but this tale really reverberates.