We all need a home away from home, a place to go when the itch to get out hits. And if that someplace satisfies the deep-seated need for community, all the better. For many people in the 1960s, La Havana Madrid nightclub at Belmont and Sheffield fit the bill. The club is long gone, but actor/playwright Sandra Delgado and theater company Teatro Vista celebrate all that it stood for with a music-fueled homage, now onstage at the Goodman Theatre.
The production premiered in April at Steppenwolf and went on a run at The Miracle Center in Logan Square. But Delgado actually began writing the piece in 2015 as a member of the Goodman’s Playwrights Unit, which fosters new work.
Initially a Cuban hangout, La Havana Madrid was later owned by a Puerto Rican television and radio host. “I didn’t know about Puerto Rican history in Chicago,” admits Delgado, a Chicago-born Colombian. “Once I started digging deep and discovering that history for myself, I knew that a big part of ‘La Havana Madrid’ had to be dedicated to the deep, complex history of Puerto Ricans in Chicago.”
Like many immigrant histories, the Puerto Rican experience in the city is one of displacement, as one neighborhood after another gentrified. “I didn’t set out to write a political play. I thought it would be a dreamy, musical reimagining of the club,” says Delgado, who appears in the show as a sort of mystical emcee. “But … where immigrants are fighting for their rights, where I am seeing my neighbors move away because they can’t afford rising rents in a newly ‘hip’ neighborhood, I can’t help but see these stories through that lens.”
Delgado’s heightened consciousness doesn’t translate to a hard-hitting history lesson. A series of stories propelled by the accompaniment of Roberto “Carpacho” Marin and his Carpacho y su Super Combo, the production rolls from cha-cha-cha and boleros to salsa, generating a joyous, life-affirming experience. La Havana Madrid, says Delgado, was “a haven, a place where you could forget your troubles, where you could hear and dance to music that moved you; a place where everyone spoke Spanish, where friends met and new friendships were made. It was a center of culture and community.”
‘La Havana Madrid’
Through Aug. 20, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn. For tickets ($30-$50), visit Goodmantheatre.org/lahavanamadrid