Happiest Place on Earth?

I’d never stepped foot in Jackson Heights prior to working on 167 Tongues. And now, as I pushed the green door and walked out of the subway station on 74th St. and Roosevelt Ave. to attend the JH3AM meeting, it feels like a second home. I think I know more about this little neck of Queens than I do about my own neighborhood.

When I pass the three taco trucks parked right outside of the station I think about how exciting it’s been to be a part of this process. To have been a part of the first two installments of the JH trilogy: 167 Tongues, and You are now the owner of this suitcase, and to now be involved in the genesis of the final piece of the puzzle. My salivary glands are on overdrive with the notion that we’ll be diving into the darker side of the area. As I walk down Roosevelt before truing onto 81st St. my eyes are peeled, is that a brothel? How about that one? I tell myself, it’s the middle of a Saturday afternoon, and the chances of seeing something are slim, but still, I scan.

So many faces. There are so many interesting face on my walk from the subway to the Renaissance School for rehearsal. What are your stories? How did you come here? What does Jackson Heights mean to you?

I get to the school, sit in my blue chair, and as the meeting starts, as the new pages the writers have brought in are read, I think, “Holy shit,” can I say shit?… I think, “Holy smokes, this is great. These stories belong to those faces. The faces I just saw coming here. I mean maybe not the very same faces, this isn’t an autobiographical play. But it could be! The material is so rooted in the reality of the lives of the faces that live in this neighborhood.”

We talk story, we talk possible development ideas, and there is one idea in particular that, upon imagining it, invokes and instant visceral reaction; chokes me up and brings tears to my eyes. It was so satisfyingly tragic. Really beautiful. I cross my inner fingers and toes, because I want so badly for this idea to make it into the play.

I wonder, aloud, about my role as an actor in this process. I just can’t wait to get on my feet and explore some of these stories, these ideas, these faces. Jackson Heights may not be everybody’s ‘Happiest place on Earth,’ but because so much of my creative life has been expressed here over the last 2 years, it is surely becoming one of mine.


—Arlene Chico-Lugo

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