Bullish on BullJack Helbigon October 19, 2022 at 8:26 pm

This is a play of tiny moments and small details, a play in which characters change slowly, the way people and seasons change—silently, imperceptibly at first and then with the sudden, savage swiftness of leaves tumbling from the trees that takes your breath away. This is a play that needs your full presence as a witness, full of strong performances and nuanced, realistic dialogue (mostly in English, but sprinkled with a little Spanish and Spanglish), that rewards audiences who listen with their minds (and their hearts) but leaves audiences who only half-listen or think they have seen this story before (they haven’t) baffled and bored. (The play is NOT boring—bored audience members are boring.) This is not to say it is a hard play to like; it is not. In fact, it is as easy to like as a conversation overheard on a bus, or a long lingering cup of coffee with a friend. (In fact, by the end of this two-act play, the characters do feel like friends.)

BULL: a love story Through 11/20: Wed 1:30 and 7 PM, Thu 7 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 1 and 5:30 PM; ASL interpretation Fri 11/9; Paramount Copley Theatre, 8 E. Galena, Aurora, 630-896-6666, paramountaurora.com, $67-$74

In this world premiere, presented at Paramount Aurora’s smaller Copley Theatre as part of the fifth annual Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theater Festival (the first suburban production in the festival’s history), Chicago-based playwright Nancy García Loza gives us a story painfully common, especially among people without good connections and better lawyers, packed with people you meet every day but may never pay attention to. Bull, the play’s main character, has returned to his home after serving ten years downstate for some unspecified crime. Over the course of the story we watch Bull awaken from his decade-long emotional hibernation, first recognizing how much he has missed in those ten years—his daughter is now a moody tween, his Chicago neighborhood (Lakeview) is gentrifying—then mourning his loss, and then, well, I don’t want to give away too much. Suffice it to say that Loza spins a tale worthy of your time in the theater.

Or more precisely, director Laura Alcalá Baker and company have assembled a tight, capable ensemble of actors who seem to know in their bones how to give life to Loza’s words, without overplaying the moments of “quiet desperation,” or playing things so quietly that this heartfelt slice of life feels like a still photograph. Eddie Martinez plays the main character with intense dignity, tempered with wounded pride and years of pent-up sorrow. And Tanya De León, stepping into the role of the mother of Bull’s daughter the night I saw the show, matches Martinez’s energy, showing in scene after scene she too has her wounds to lick. Likewise, adult actor Jocelyn Zamudio is hilarious and a delight, playing an emotional seventh-grader who suddenly has to cope with having her father around.

Under Baker’s direction, all of the elements are in place for a fine evening of theater. You just have to clear your head, silence your expectations, and pay attention.

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