Local play makes world premiere

By Bertha Serrano

A couple of years ago, Obdulia Delgado was driving home from work by Fullerton Avenue in Bucktown. When she came across the underpass by the Kennedy Expressway, she saw a stain on the wall that mirrored the image of the Virgin Mary.

By the next morning, the media knew all about it, and worshippers had placed candles and flowers at the site of, what seemed to be, a miracle.

A week later, playwright Tanya Saracho went to  the bridge for a year, talking to worshippers, non-believers and those who were personally affected by the image. After her research and interviews, Saracho turned those into a monologue play called, “Our Lady of the Underpass,” which is currently playing at Teatro Vista, 3712 N. Broadway.

Teatro Vista has been around for 19 years and still aims to produce works celebrating Latino culture through its actors and scripts. Columbia arts, entertainment and media management alumna Laura Wurz has been the managing director at Teatro Vista for the past year-and-a-half.  She said the play is not only the first time the theater has done a Chicago-based play, but also a world-premiere play.

“The play is fictional, but it was based on those initial interviews that [Saracho] had with the people [who] were down there,” Wurz said.

The play portrays the lives of six people who, in one way or another, were affected by the appearance of the stain. Some of the portrayed characters include a guy who jogs by it every morning and doesn’t believe in it, a very religious Polish woman and a disabled person who is also a strong believer and sees it as a miracle.

“It was [significant] for us to do a play based in Chicago,” Wurz said. “We had never done that before, and we’re a Chicago-based organization. It was important for us to bring that into the mix.”

Director Sandra Marquez didn’t come across too many issues while directing the play, as she’s always earned a living as an actress. Marquez has also worked at the Goodman and Steppenwolf theaters.

“This is something new for me because I have never directed a monologue play before,” Marquez said. “I consider the playwright a professional colleague and a friend, as well. So that made things a little easier for me.”

In order to replicate the setting of the Fullerton Avenue underpass, the theater company had to hire a couple of artists to make it resemble the real thing as much as possible. They made sure to include all the minor details, like the writings on the wall and the offerings people had placed in front of it.

Edward Torres, artistic director for Teatro Vista, said the setting worked out better than they thought it would because there’s such a close and strong resemblance to the real thing. He said it’s as though the audience is in front of the stained image.

Torres also graduated from Columbia in 2000 with a film degree. He was in charge of hiring Saracho and Marquez for this play.

“We try to support writers of color as much as we can,” Torres said. “When we saw Saracho’s script, we knew this show would fit in the theater.”

Torres said they faced some issues while producing the play, like staying within the available budget. Scheduling auditions was also an issue because Marquez was in Portland, Ore., working on another play.

“The entire play is powerful,” Torres said. “The characters question their faith and why they go there late at night and worship a stain on the wall. [The play] is about their reasons. Why they go worship the lady of the underpass and what their needs are.”

“Our Lady of the Underpass” will be playing through March 29.