‘Alma’ at American Blues Theatre Interrogates the American Dream

Alma has dreamed about her daughter getting a perfect SAT score since first coming to the United States. On the evening before the big test, Angel reveals that she has other plans. With college around the corner and the 2016 election results looming overhead, Alma and Angel wrestle with an unknown future and the threat of deportation. Playwright Benjamin Benne captures the quotidian tension, dread, and overwhelming concerns that grip households with mixed citizenship status across the country. With heartfelt direction by Ana Velazquez, Alma finds power in the bond between mother and daughter.

Jazmín Corona and Bryanna Ciera Colón forge a strikingly beautiful connection as Alma and Angel respectively. The mother/daughter duo imbue each moment with care, whether they are fighting, singing, or practicing vocab. Corona and Colón find the love and the laughs in Benjamin Benne’s soulful dialogue. The powerful dynamic between these two performers transcends their shared time on stage.

The events of the play take place in real time over the 1-hour and 10-minute performance. Director Ana Velazquez lovingly crafts tender moments that shine throughout the evening. However, the production loses momentum as Alma and Angel drift closer to bed. The play struggles to counterbalance the character’s exhaustion, resulting in a lagging second half.

The scenic design by Tara A. Houston makes the most of Rivendell Theatre’s intimate performance venue to create a realistic and dynamic one-bedroom apartment. Prop designer Verity Neely fills the small home with familiar objects like the floral cobija, a large blanket found in many latin-american households, that graces Alma’s pull-out couch mattress. The glow of light pollution warming the window gives way to a gorgeous array of string lights to transform the ceiling into a starry night sky. Lighting design by Rachel West and sound design by Eric Backus blend practical effects with otherworldly impact. Costume designer Lily Walls subtly reveals more about Alma’s past and Angel’s future as the two change into the clothes that make them the most comfortable.

Alma has been a long time coming for Chicago audiences. COVID-19 and the loss of American Blues Theater’s rental venue at Stage 773 complicated plans to premiere the new play after it won the 2019 Blue Ink Award. The long road to production transforms the play into a period piece, strengthened by how expertly it captures the crisis and conflict that defined Trump-era, pre-Covid America. Alma challenges misconceptions about immigration, the road to citizenship, and the impact it has on families across the country.

Alma runs at Rivendell Theatre until October 22.

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Jazmín Corona, Alma
Bryanna Ciera Colón, Angel

Benjamin Benne, Playwright
Ana Velazquez, Director
Tara A. Houston, Scenic Design
Rachel West, Lighting Design/ Master Electrician
Lily Walls, Costume Design
Eric Backus, Sound Design
Verity Neely, Properties Design
Gaby Labotka, Fight & Intimacy Direction
Manny Ortiz, Technical Director
Ana Maria Campoy, Spanish Translations
Shandee Vaughan, Production & Stage Manager

Photo Credit: Jenn Udonni

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