A Home What Howls-Steppenwolf for Young Adults hits a high note

Isabel Quintero,Leslie Sophia Pérez and Tim Hopper
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STEPPENWOLF THEATRE COMPANY is currently staging Steppenwolf for Young Adults world premiere of a home what howls (or the house that was ravine) through March 2, 2024. Written by Matthew Paul Olmos and directed by Laura Alcalá Baker, this charming and thoughtful production features Steppenwolf Ensemble Member Tim Hopper, Chárin Álvarez, Leslie Sophia Pérez, Isabel Quintero and Eddie Torres. 

The acting is first-rate, the direction spot-on; the characters blend seamlessly together, moving about the space with assurance and grace. Hopper, as always, was a study in under-stated intensity; Álvarez and Torres brought authentic joy to their relationship; Quintero fully inhabited her parts and Pérez as the ingenue graced the role.

a home what howls is based on the heart-wrenching true story of Chávez Ravine, a Mexican American village razed in the 1950’s by the city of Los Angeles to make way for a low-income housing project. Homes, schools and a local church were torn down in a complex scheme characterized by greed and political hypocrisy- yet, as the play makes clear in a poignant confrontation between Hopper and Pérez- also by good intentions. The entire self-sufficient and beloved neighborhood evaporated, the housing projects never materialized, and the 300-plus acres ultimately morphed into Dodgers Stadium.

The production is at once a rural fable, an urban crusade, a multicultural multigenerational multispecies meditation on the nature of usurpation and change in society. Simply expressed, but never simplistic, it’s an object lesson in the realities of clinging to the known as family life transmutes- from animism to agrarianism to urban renewal. It’s a piece that reflects on respecting the disabilities of (even our) enemies, the crimes of our totems and elders, the perennial failure of the young to remain in the nest. 

The play is rife with strategic and repeated symbolism, in the stagecraft, the stage set, the language, the dialogue. What does it mean to be human, to “own” land, to “procure” consent, to decimate trees, to howl at the wind, to disappear down an underground shelter, to make love amidst palpable fear? And perhaps most obviously, what is the essence of “home”? Can one ever go back? The concept of endings, of mutation and movement here is symbolized in the spirit-animal of the coyote…as a cub, as a medicine-woman, as the source of what bays in the night from the wilderness of our fear of the future.

The wonderful acoustics and sightlines of the in-the-round Ensemble Theater in Honor of Helen Zell, 1646 N. Halsted St., Chicago provide an intimate showcase for a work that avoids tiresome “woke” cliché in favor of providing examples of an all-inclusive worldview. It’s not just one segment of society that is brought forward, but EVERYPUP/EVERYSHAMAN who has ever found themselves wondering why their offspring see so much more from so far away. Who among us has ancestors who haven’t looked for guidance to the moon, been wakened by bulldozers, mourned the tall trees, been forced to run? And every generation must look to the next for the promise of redemption.

Eddie Torres, Chárin Álvarez and Leslie Sophia Pérez

Kudos and thanks to the fine production team including Lauren Nichols, scenic designer, who created a believable yet fairy-tale set; Uriel Gómez, costume designer, who pulled together the everyday and the fantastic; Lindsey Lyddan, lighting designer, who lit up the daytime and the nighttime worlds; Peter Clare, sound designer, and April Dawn Guthrie, composer, for effects and original music that enhanced the whole.

All photos by Michael Brosilow.

For information and tickets, go to www.steppenwolf.org


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