A girl walks onto a stage that's bare but for a suitcase in the center. Like any teenager entering a room, she's looking down at the small flat object in her hand. There's a chime that sounds like a text message coming in. But it's not a cell phone—it's a virgencita, an icon of the Virgin Mary. "Have you seen one of these before?," she asks, before launching into a story, half-told in Spanish, about her family history. A boy opens his mother's fan, remembering how she loved to watch him dance. Another boy waves a pot of Vicks VapoRub in the air, in his family a cure for everything from backache to depression. Their voices start to overlap. Their trinkets fill the suitcase.
Transformations of objects into stories and back again structure Ofrenda ("Offering"), a new play devised by the 32 teenagers of the Albany Park Theater Project, written by Isaac Gomez, and directed by Stephanie Paul and Maggie Popadiak. There's an earnest sweetness to many of these tales—one girl celebrating her first hijab with ice cream in Damascus, another feeding chickens in the Ecuadoran countryside—but pain, loss, alienation, and injustice keep them from being stories "for" children. And yet the persistent conversion of loss into art, the hope it engenders, and the beauty that results is a powerful lesson at any age. The performers dance together, sing together, protest together. A bombed city becomes a landscape drawing unfurling across the stage. For theater as activism, you couldn't ask for more. v