Albany Park Theater Project at Goodman Theatre. Directed by Stephanie Paul, Maggie Popadiak, Rossana Rodríguez Sánchez. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 25mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Gwen Purdom
There’s nothing beautiful about the situation the young characters in God’s Work find themselves trapped in, and yet Albany Park Theatre Project’s latest production, now playing at the Goodman Theatre, frames the ugliness in such a way that it is often breathtaking. That juxtaposition of brutality and beauty, and the human capacity to turn the former into the latter, is the foundation upon which the show is built—and it’s the piece that makes an already powerful show all the more striking.
Along with her 17 brothers and sisters, Rachel is struggling to survive cramped in a dank, dark basement at the hands of an abusive fundamentalist father (Vincent K. Meredith) and a cowering mother (a believably tortured Kyra Mae Robinson). The focus on Rachel’s journey alone seems arbitrary, considering the shared plight of her siblings, but the drama, like all the theater company’s original works, is based on a true story, in this case a true story a former Albany Park ensemble member actually lived through.
The diverse cast, made up of local 14– to 19-year-olds, delivers a haunting performance of both terrified obedience and frenzied desperation. Each thoughtful movement, choreographed by co-directors Stephanie Paul and Maggie Popadiak, creates a disturbing dance that winds throughout the show. As Rachel, 14-year-old Maidenwena Alba has engaging poise and quiet strength. The actors that play her siblings don’t stand out nearly as much individually (which seems to be the idea), but as a group, they’re damaged and determined all at once.
Strengthened by imaginative design choices, the overall ambition and emotion of the show helps to balance the fact that many questions are left unanswered. Even so, the little closure the audience does get is hopeful and heartening—a well-crafted reminder that as dark as things can get, there’s always the promise of light.