Friday, July 27, 2007

O Good St. Anne...

Back to the matriarchal parish last night. Well, alright, it isn't quite that. But, in effect it is.

My grandmother was from St. Agnes in Brighton Park. It was the Irish ethnic parish those days. (And, tracing it further back, I think that her mom or grandmother actually first registered at Holy Family on Roosevelt Rd.) But Grandma was who I knew.

St. Agnes got shut down several years back in the major round of parish closings under the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Bernardin's, direction. Actually, so did the parish which I was at yesterday... kind of.

St. Joseph Parish was founded in the late 1800s. By the turn of the century (that would be LAST century), the church was under the charge of French priests (ministering to the French Catholic community). They brought with them a particular devotion to St. Anne. Along came a significant relic soon thereafter. And the shrine was founded, with Anne's name tagged on to the church's title.

Over the years, the great novena turned into a big event. With hymns, processions, prayers offered heartfelt the entire community came to appreciate that there was something special happening here. In this place miracles occurred. (The below photo depicts canes, crutches, shoes, and other artifacts which were left in tribute to physical healings alone.) Truly the presence of the Lord has been long at work on this lot of land.

Now over 100 years strong, it continues still. Each year faithful devotees gather again at 38th Place and California over nine days leading up to the feast of St. Anne on July 26. They walk through the streets in song and prayer past households with candles or statues devoutly decorating the porch. The curious come out of their homes to witness, while others stop to watch and see what this grand gathering is all about.

But you don't have to be Catholic to understand.

Which leads me back to my own family's history. Grandpa lived down the block back in the day, growing up. In an old apartment which is still there. He was one of those types who came out just to experience the event. Though never a religious man, he sure can sing the noted processional song which he remembers so well, even now in old age.

So again, I made the pilgrimage back. Down Archer Avenue I walked, past the funeral home on 38th Street, across the the CTA carbarn apron. Past the public school which is the old St. Agnes grammar. Stare at the empty field where that parish Church of my grandmother's side, so well known; so loved though gone, once stood. A glance at the house where her brother last lived, and that of my Godmother's one time abode. Alas, at the step of the holy doors... and inside.

Therein I stood with Godfather and Great Aunt (grandmother's sis). Here in that place where the family long has been graced. This church (Sts. Joseph & Anne) next door (well, down the block) from St. Agnes are now together merged. They call the combination community Our Lady of Fatima these days. Somehow, it's fitting. Everyone from the neighborhood has knelt herein. Indeed, I heard not a few remembrances growing up about how Gram would stop in at the shrine to pray whether while young or over the years. St. Anne, also, is a grandmother of note. So, here, we tonight return.

It's about tradition. Reconnecting to roots. Honoring a heroine, Anne. Walking in footsteps. Creating new tracks. This is our culture. Herein lies life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A wing and a prayer

Passing a Church plaza this past dusk , I heard birds. Looking up, there they were frolicking about in the evening air. I stopped several minutes and watched them flutter, fly through the sky in this, their avian playground. Pause and be pleased by the nature around you amidst a hectic, busy life, I thought, lest life itself pass by unnoticed. Allow your heart to be lifted aloft by the birds above.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

500 Clown Macbeth

I finally managed to get out to see this production. It has been bandied before to me, but I, unfortunately, allowed it to pass. Now it has been revived, alongside companion piece, 500 Clown Frankenstein, at the Steppenwolf Theater where the two shows are playing in repertory into August. (They will also appear in New York this December.)

Some envision clowns as the heavily greasepainted, bawdy costumed characters at a circus. While the costuming of this comic work certainly communicates outlandish, this ain't the kind of clown you might expect. Instead, via theatrical work, the trio of Molly Brennen, Adrian Danzig, and Paul Kalina are returning clowning to its roots.

As characters, they are all too real since, as clowns, they can satirically reveal in reducio absurdum our genuine human foible. It is the role of a clown to make one feel something. Here is how we come to understand ourselves. And this is what their creative work accomplishes. In under 75 minutes of antics, they lead us through a hilarious struggle in pursuit of power, glory, destruction. Breaking the fourth wall, and involving the audience in spots (I was proclaimed, "The Knight of No" at this performance), allows these clowns to establish a personal connection with us and draw us more closely into their world.

A unique stage setting here offers the opportunity of exciting physical comedy. For perhaps half an hour (or more), alone, these clowns pursue a crown by climbing the stage's scaffolding. But things never get slow or repetitive in this prolonged chase. Rather, new and exciting bits are discovered at every turn. Indeed, whenever it seems that the desired prize is within arms reach, a new twist is revealed.

There are ups and downs which make the plot particularly worthy. Some of the best parts, it seems, are actually when things take a turn and get silent before ramping up again. Indeed, the cast does an excellent job of creating theater in its best sense via the dramtic levels which they bring about. Nor, it should be noted, is this show mere silliness. The clowns of 500's Macbeth will keep you laughing at length, but also provoke worthwhile thought if you let them. It's the best of both worlds - and what serious clowning can do.

As an extended clowning work, yet compacted theater, the trio takes the traditional Macbeth and turns it inside out. There isn't much narrative from the actual play, in fact. (And what does find its way onto the scene tends to unexpectedly intrude for comic reminder that, "Yes, this is Shakespeare, afterall!") Instead, their interpretation cuts to the chase and gets at the ultimate essence of the underlying story with noble simplicity. Perhaps only clowns can honestly tell it like it really is, straightforward, in all its bloody mess of truth.