efe-epaKristen Rader Chicago

The tumultuous race relations and fertile blues and rock scene of 1960s Chicago's black and white communities are well documented in popular culture.

But during that same time period, world-renowned Hispanic artists like Celia Cruz, Pedro Vargas and Cheo Feliciano were entertaining crowds at the trendy La Havana Madrid nightclub in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.

Hispanic immigrants, especially those from Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Cuba, would flock to La Havana Madrid, where they would dance to live salsa music, play dominoes and see and be seen. And yet, almost no record of its heyday exists.

"I grew up walking by Belmont and Sheffield all the time. I couldn't believe there was once a Latinx nightclub there. I couldn't find anything online," Chicago-based actress and playwright Sandra Delgado said in an interview with EFE, using the gender-neutral term for a person of Latin American descent.

"I found a book at the library about Chicago music history of the 1960s, and in a book of 200 pages there was not one Latinx name."

Her own Colombian father and uncles had gone to La Havana Madrid themselves; obviously the club had existed.

"That's when I knew I was onto something. There was something to be uncovered here."

Delgado's research led her to write "La Havana Madrid," a play that takes you back in time to the vibrant Hispanic nightlife scene of the 1960s.

A smash hit two years ago, "La Havana Madrid" will make its spring return on Saturday at The Den Theatre in the Windy City.

Told as a series of intertwined vignettes and accompanied by live music from local band Carpacho y Su Super Combo, it offers insight into underrepresented and culturally significant immigrant experiences.

"The play is about individual stories, but I'm also tying in what was happening in Chicago at the time politically. I wanted to talk about the displacement that was happening to the Puerto Rican community in Lincoln Park, about Operation Peter Pan and the 14,000 unaccompanied minors that came to America from Cuba when Castro took over, about the 1966 riots after the police shot an unarmed Puerto Rican man," Delgado said.

"This is not a segmented part of history; this is the history of this country, and we're all a part of it. I really want to share it with as many people as possible."

Delgado herself plays a mistress of ceremonies of sorts, also named La Havana Madrid, who acts as an ethereal guide that facilitates this time travel. In addition to bringing each character forward to tell their stories, she also serves as lead singer of the live band, performing salsa, mambo, and boleros.

"I'm Colombian, and I've been a professional actress for 20 years, and I've played one Colombian character," Delgado said.

(She has appeared in series such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Chicago Fire and Empire, as well as in stage productions at Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre)

"There aren't a lot of Colombian-American playwrights out there that are getting produced. You have to pass so many hurdles. Female playwrights of color account for about 3 percent of plays produced, so this is like a tiny miracle happening."

The play had a successful first run two years ago, when it was named one of Time Out Chicago's Top 10 plays of 2017. Now that it's making its return to the stage as a co-production between Teatro Vista and Collaboraction, Delgado and director Cheryl Lynn Bruce have made a few minor changes, like adding more dancing to the lively performance.

But Delgado says external factors have contributed to the evolution of the show as well. "Everything changed after Trump got elected."

"We had a series of auditions before the election, and one after the election. Hearing my words again for the first time, I was like, 'Oh my God, this means something completely different now.'"

"I could not have predicted how timely the issues are that I talk about in the play - immigration, families being separated, racism, police brutality, gentrification and displacement, and the right to speak the language you want to speak in this country without being punished for it in some way."

While some weighty issues are covered, the show aims to entertain, with audiences often clapping along with the music and even spontaneously interacting with cast members.

"It's like you're in a nightclub! There's awesome music and you can dance. And these stories are funny, but they're also very real. They're honest. They do get political. They do ask you to think, and they're also unapologetically Latinx," she said.

"This is a show that I wrote for Latinx people," Delgado said. "But it is accessible to everyone, and it will make everyone think about what is going on in the world now."

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