The Waltzing Mechanics company started “El Stories” at the beginning of this year, and it’s proven to be a winning, almost maddeningly simple formula. The actors interview Chicagoans to get their best stories of navigating our fair city’s public transportation system, and dramatize said stories.
Anyone who has spent any time on the strange metallic cocoon that is an el train knows well that it’s a unique and intimate encounter with unchained humanity. And that’s inherently hilarious.
For the holiday season, the Mechanics have decided to focus on holiday stories, including those of the legendary “Holiday Train” the train that gets decked out every year to resemble Santa’s sleigh. Many Chicagoans actively hunt for the Holiday Train, others surreptitiously stumble into it.
One scene demonstrates the enthusiasm for the institution, in which a 27 year old woman jumps up and down and shouts with glee at its approach. Another scene cleverly shows the other side of the coin depicting one of those miserable days in which train delays mean you’re waiting on a cold platform for forty five minutes. When a train finally arrives, it’s the Holiday Train but instead of bringing joy and wonderment it provokes the weary commuters to snarl and curse Santa.
As I noted in my last review, El Stories definitely has a privileged, white, middle class point of view despite its multiracial cast. Sometimes this gets a little uncomfortable as in when a white actress plays a “black lady who was obviously homeless or whatever” according to the teller of the story.
On the other hand, it’s a pretty universal experience to not be thrilled with some idiot yelling at you or vomiting on you, and the honest encounters between different cultures and different individuals are what makes this an entertaining and authentic show.