My family loves to tell the story of my childhood obsession with barbecue ribs. It’s a short story, a silly one of stripping me down at the dinner table to spare my clothes from the massacre which can only happen as a two year old eats, but it’s one that stays with me to this day. But it’s, ultimately, a harmless story too.
The same is not true for Cordelia Lynn’s central character in her heart-breaking, beautiful work Lela & Co. Though Lela’s initial story is an amusing one (a family myth perpetuated over the years) which Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel (Lela) relates with gusto, we soon find out that this tale masks something much darker. Determined to share not the false narrative which her family has adopted but the gruesome truth of her life, Lela fights through her anguish to shine light on the harsh realities she has faced.
Under the expert direction of Robin Witt, Lynn’s script packs a powerful punch, one that resonates long after the lights dim. Gonzalez-Cadel is a tour de force as Lela, beginning the play with a forced optimism that shows the amount of effort Lela must make to tell the truth, and ending with raw emotion so intense and realistic that many of the audience members openly wept with her. Her occasional scene partner, Chris Chmelik (Man) provides the perfect antithesis to Lela’s good-natured tone; his chilling voice fills the room, and Lela, with dread.
It was, in short, one of the most remarkable and poignant pieces of Chicago theatre I have seen--a production which reminds us that the “truth” or, for that matter, “history,” is oftentimes determined by those in power.
Reviewed by Emily Schmidt
Lela & Co. continues at Steep Theatre through Sept. 2. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheateInChicago's Review Round Up.