Chicago Theater Review: GOD’S WORK (Goodman)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 7, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


The inception of this 2006 work from Chicago’s neighborhood-based Albany Park Theater Project is a remark made by a 14-year-old member of their youth ensemble: “I learned to love when I was 10 years old.” Her true-life story is the basis of APTP’s 80-minute cri de coeur, the fourth offering by the troupe at Goodman Theatre and one specifically reconfigured for the black-box Owen stage.

Lacy Katherine Campbell, Brandon Campbell, Ely Espino and Jalen Rios in GOD'S WORK by Albany Park Theater Project at the Goodman.

Created by the teenage company from the Northwest Side and directed by David Feiner, Stephanie Paul, Maggie Popadiak, and Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, God’s Work is as much a dance piece for 22 game young actors (and a bunraku puppet) as it is a slice of realism depicting—from the inside out–an ugly case of child abuse that borders on abandonment and harassment.

The setting is a dank Chicago basement where an incredible 18 siblings are under the sadistic sway of their punitive papa Nicholas (menacingly methodical Vincent K. Meredith). This parental persecutor’s fundamentalist Christianity makes him see sin everywhere, especially in his many kids. Their innocent infractions—here called “transgressions”–are reported dutifully by the eldest son Caleb (Kito Espino in a complex role) and punished corporally and nutritionally, as in starvation.

Ely Espino, Jalen Rios, and Maidenwena Alba in GOD'S WORK by Albany Park Theater Project at the Goodman.

Crouching on the cold basement floor, clad in green uniforms, the brothers and sisters might pass for a captive cult or band of hostages. The children’s only pleasures are to play with cotton balls in a circus fantasy or, for the boys, to let their displaced anger make them kill honey bees. (Maddeningly, the Department of Children and Family Services, let alone concerned neighbors, offer no intervention for what seems like years of neglect and worse.)

Gibran Carrisoza, Christina Saliba, Paloma Reyes and Lizbeth Acevedo in GOD'S WORK by Albany Park Theater Project at the Goodman.

Caught in the cruelty is narrator Rachel (a battered, then radiant, Maidenwena Alba) who gradually wins Nicholas’ favor as he defensively describes his fear of and respect for his father. In an act of rather instant redemption, Caleb turns on Nicholas and (all too easily) casts out the rotten parent. (Herself a victim of this dad from hell, the battered mother, virtually a mute brood mare as played by Kyra Mae Robinson, is a mere cipher whose only kindness to Rachel is to wave goodbye to her as she goes to work.)

Kyra Mae Robinson and Vincent Meredith in GOD'S WORK by Albany Park Theater Project at the Goodman.

For a second time (no one knows why the first adoption failed), Rachel finds herself adopted by kindly neighbors Irene and Peter (Ely Espino and Jalen D. Rios). They had protected her as a child and now display loving photographs of that brief and happy escape. In a perfect moment of ablution and atonement, purification and healing, these new and infinitely better parents give grateful Rachel a tender sponge bath. Rachel, like her many now-scattered siblings, is finally free.

Gustavo Duran, Maidenwena Alba, Gibran Carrisoza and Jeremy Sebastian in GOD'S WORK by Albany Park Theater Project at the Goodman.

As a factual recount of an urban crime, God’s Work raises too many unanswered questions. (Why didn’t Irene and Peter take action sooner, for instance, or did Rachel hide her plight?) But as a disciplined and stylized depiction of the topography of terror and the joy of liberation (what Rachel calls her “second story”), it’s very winning theater, rich with moving stage pictures worth far more than a thousand words.

Ely Espino, Jalen Rios and Maidenwena Alba in GOD'S WORK by Albany Park Theater Project at the Goodman.God’s Work
Albany Park Theater Project (APTP)
Owen Theatre at the Goodman, 170 North Dearborn
scheduled to end on April 19, 2014
for tickets, call 312.443.3800
or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,


Sara Robinson April 11, 2014 at 2:20 pm

One correction, the role of Joanna (the mother) is played by Kyra Mae Robinson.

Tony Frankel April 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm

The correction has been made, Sara. Thank you for pointing that out.

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