The Superpower of Survival: Review of 'Real Life Adventures of Jimmy de las Rosas'
Ricardo Gamboa has their own arsenal of superpowers. The Chicago artist, writer, activist, and academic creates work that comments on our current reality, but also brings to light issues that never went away. The Real Life Adventures of Jimmy de las Rosas, presented by CLATA at Free Street Theatre as a part of Destinos, is one of those works.
Set in Little Village on Chicago’s Southside, Jimmy (Ulises Acosta) is a young teen with the power to move things with his mind. He dreams of becoming a famous baseball player so he can better the lives of his undocumented family, abuela (Ruth Guerra) and single mother Letty (Elizabeth Nungaray). But once people start disappearing around his neighborhood, including his own mom, Jimmy turns his ambitions to finding the kidnappers.
Interestingly enough, this play debuted and traveled around Chicago in 2015 in collaboration with the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks Initiative. The historic Free Street Theatre has been producing work by/for/in/with/about communities for nearly 50 years and it is no surprise that a show like this is a part of that legacy.
Under the direction of Ana Velazquez, this play features a cast of people of color (save a cop and mutant Chihuahua or two) with diverse intersectional identities: queer, non-binary, multi-generational, mixed-class, and trans+. This is what Chicago theatre looks like and what our young people need to be watching.
With the entrance of two Black teen siblings, also equipped with powers, Jimmy is not so isolated with a gift he is vehemently told to suppress. In one of the first scenes, before we know of Jimmy’s powers, his abuela is angered by the neighborhood talk of his impossible baseball skills. In another, proud chismosa hermosa Juani (Mia Arevalo) is happy to tell of her barrio sightings and opinions.
With so many discoveries made indirectly through character chisme, I wonder how characters could maintain agency over their stories and outing of powers by being first to share such intimate details. Nevertheless, the narrative stays firmly rooted in the hood. Scenic design by Gamboa and crafted by Peter Wilde is careful to detail everything from abuela’s paleta cart con glistening mangos to the Rosas family’s living room with a painting of Our Lady de Guadalupe. The set is broken into five playing areas, one of which that is only revealed at the climax, and another being between the aisle of the audience. Velazquez’s stellar direction is apparent in the tight shifting between immersive and proscenium staging.
Shadow work (with smart, innovative lighting, Levi Wilkins) and choreography, both fight (Michah Figuero) and movement (Ysaye McKeever), do much to solidify where and when we are. Scenes in the night start as tranquil and inviting, but quickly turn ominous as the yapping of mutated Chihuahuas fill the air (Sadie Woods). With the Chihuahuas running the scenic transitions, the audience better watch out, as there’s no predicting who may disappear next.
In true Gamboa form, this is a play based on real life people of color being the heroes of their own stories. In Little Village, toxic chemical spills and raids on undocumented populations are a reality. We must remember that inside ordinary people lies something extraordinary: the superpower of survival.