Theater Review: THE PROJECT(S) (Stage Left Theater, Chicago)

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by Tony Frankel and Lawrence Bommer on November 5, 2020

in Theater-Chicago,Virtual


It’s a continuing crisis seen from the inside out, fleshed out with warmth and truth. In The Project(s), the late, great American Theater Company artistic director PJ Paparelli and documentarian Joshua Jaeger created a crash course and action meditation on Chicago’s infam0us housing projects. Inspired by Jacob Riis’s pioneering expose How The Other Half Lives, these projects began as a well-intentioned, even “progressive” Depression-era experiment in a mass occupancy to rival mass transit.

The Chicago Housing Authority, in tandem with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, worked to contain the northward “Great Migration” of African Americans in vast future tenements named Stateway and Wentworth Gardens and Lathrop, Clarence Darrow and Ida B. Wells Homes. Unintended consequences reduced (and enlarged) these mammoth edifices to minimum-security holding pens for the impoverished, abandoned by the working poor and overwhelmed by drug-peddling, gangbanging squatters. The hope for a happy home became a waking nightmare in a broke-ass ghetto.

Beginning Friday, November 6, Stage Left Theatre will present nine performances live — not pre-recorded — via Zoom of this amazing play about the nearly century-long “blueprint for disaster.” Powerfully and painfully, eight inspired actors will relate testimony from the authors’ over-100 interviews with city officials, experts on urban incarceration, and past and present residents of public housing. This docudrama relates how urban renewal became “Negro removal,” how spotless interiors became infested with rat turds and bedbugs, and how, defying degradation, a resilient and undefeated populace could make a village out of a concentration camp or training jail.

Director Christian Helem says, “How often do black people get to tell our story the way we experienced it? Rarely. The Project(s) tells this story from the residents’ perspective. Their story, the true story of the Chicago Housing Projects, will never make it in a history book. But we, the artists, can rectify that by offering our arts as a service to the community.”

So many tales from the front, the anecdotes, memories, rationalizations, and analyses accumulate into a burning oral history as civic-minded as it is theatrically intense.

photo courtesy of SLT

The Project(s)
Stage Left Theatre Company
played live via Zoom
Friday Nov. 6 at 7pm CT
Saturday Nov. 7 at 7pm CT
Sunday Nov. 8 at at 3pm CT
Thursday Nov. 12 at 7pm CT
Friday Nov. 13 at 7pm CT
Saturday Nov. 14 at 7pm CT
Sunday Nov. 15 at 3pm CT
Saturday Nov. 21 at 7pm CT
Thursday Nov. 26 at 6pm CT (Thanksgiving — performance is prerecorded)
for tickets (Pay-What-You-Can, $20 suggested) visit Stage Left
for assistance, email [email protected] or call 773-883-8830.

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