Most Chicagoans have an image of an urban gentrifier. They’re the people who move into neighborhoods to take advantage of cheaper rents, displacing lower-income residents who have lived there for many years.
In Not for Sale 2.0, a new play currently onstage at Chicago’s UrbanTheater Company, Seamus McMahon and Rebekah Roberts portray Mark and Susan Sokolov, a white couple who move into Humboldt Park on the city’s West Side to open a wellness and yoga business.
The play confronts a reality happening right outside the theater’s front door on Division Street in Humboldt Park. Director Wendy Mateo said the staging is meant to make the audience feel like they’re in the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community.
“You walk in off Division Street, but I want you to feel like you’re on Division Street the entire time,” Mateo said after last Sunday’s performance.
That comes through with projections of archival images from the annual “Puerto Rican People’s Parade” and representations of store awnings and signs you might see walking along Division. In the play, “Rey’s Special Occasions” serves as a central meeting spot. Rey, played by Frankie Davila, is a community anchor.
In an early scene, Susan Sokolov is selling her husband, Mark, on opening their business in Humboldt Park. “This place is really close to downtown, it’s not far from the expressway, and all the trendy neighborhoods are close by,” Susan told an apprehensive Mark. “We can’t afford a Bucktown or East Village or even Logan Square anymore,” Susan explained.
While people like the Sokolovs have become easy targets, director Mateo said it’s more nuanced. “We wanted to make sure none of the characters came off as caricatures.” Mateo said they’re not the villains, but they bear some culpability in leading to over-development of a neighborhood. “They’re not responsible for the system but they do play a part in it.”
The Sokolovs are welcomed by Rey when they open their business, but not by two young activists in the neighborhood. Ricky, played by Andrew Neftali Perez, and Devin, played by Andrew Truss, tell the couple they’re a threat to Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican culture.
Mateo said Not for Sale 2.0 is not meant to be preachy, but there is a lesson about moving into a place and recognizing long-time residents’ roots and shared values. “You can fix up a building for your agenda and your purposes but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re involving the community in which you’re fixing that building,” Mateo said.
Not for Sale 2.0 runs through April 7 at UrbanTheater Company in Humboldt Park.