Community theater hits mark with new play

Kate Krepel

The idea isn’t new: A community ensemble takes stories of its neighborhoods and performs them. But guaranteed, you’ve never seen the concept as well executed as it is in the performances of the teen-agers of the Albany Park Theater Project. The group’s ninth show, aptly titled “Number Nine,” runs for one more weekend at the Eugene Field Cultural Center in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Founded in 1996, APTP has gained an excellent reputation in the Chicago area for using the arts to help young people achieve their potential. More importantly, the ideas of these young people create some of the most innovative staging in Chicago.

“Number Nine” includes three different works: “Huy Time,” “Melissa Belle Crawford” and “Honey.” Each presents a different perspective from this immigrant, working-class neighborhood. In keeping with APTP’s slogan of “Real Stories, Real Teenagers, Real Community, Real Theater,” each of the three stories comes from a cast member’s true-to-life family story. The group’s mission statement is three-tiered: “to create dynamic original theater; to help neighborhood youth recognize and achieve their potential; and to contribute to the vitality and vibrancy of Albany Park,” says its Web site.

“Huy Time” centers on a Vietnamese family’s move from Vietnam to Chicago, through a refugee camp in the Philippines and various parts of the United States. This epic story is creatively set with a bamboo-shoot set piece that can be disassembled into a couch, a tree and a bench.

Instead of acting out the entire story, the younger brother narrates. The thrust of the story depends on movements set to percussion instruments. A music-dance-storytelling conglomeration, the work touches on sensitive subjects of abuse and an immigrant family trying to make it in the New World.

The most touching of the three pieces, “Melissa Belle Crawford,” begins with two mentally ill parents who cannot take care of their baby and the struggle that the child faces throughout her childhood with her aunt. The cast’s deep understanding of schizophrenia is astounding. The young actors embody the frustration of raising their child with the metaphor of growing plants: While the story unfolds, the actors dig in a dirt trench center-stage.

Determined to end on a positive note, “Honey” tells of a young boy from a family with little money who gets a dog (named Honey) from his mother. The boy and his dog find a connection that fills a void in the boy’s life – a common story told with na