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  • Rosie Roche

Steppenwolf Theatre opens the World Premiere of A home what howls (or the house what was ravine)

This was my first Theatre for Young Adults experience at Steppenwolf. I wasn’t sure where it

would be pitched - a nuanced children’s show? A teen polemic? I brought my favorite teen

with me for inter-generational perspective, which happily turned out to be a main theme of the


This is a story about home, love, community, and who decides when people leave. Immigrant

communities live where they can afford to build. Decades later a freeway project displaces

them. This is a familiar story of the marginalized made weaker by those in authority, their lives

and homes and family ties less important that the those of the dominant culture, the stronger

force. Through one family’s struggle to retain what they see as theirs to the bitter end, the tale

unfolds in magical realism. The archetype of Coyote visits the ravine, wary and aggressive,

spirit-like watching the humans at all times. Her anthropomorphized self challenges humans

to consider their impact on the natural world. How many animals have been displaced? How

many other people though the ages have lived on this land and been removed? It is not a

simple story with obvious lessons, instead interweaving stories are brilliantly manifested by the

small and nimble cast. Just five actors create clashing worlds across time, challenging the

audience to ask who has the right to any land, and to any power of another’s life.

A simple, beautiful stone slab mosaic of a floor at slightly different heights made up the set (by

Lauren Nichols). A few props were brought on occasionally, perhaps unnecessarily, as this

stone landscape with a river bisecting it stood for all the physical and symbolic divides of the

stories and needed no adornment. The exceptionally fine lighting design gave all the color and

depth for changing mood and place that was needed. Lindsey Lyddan brought emotive

washes to the stage, most memorably for me where hues of blues brought us into night and to

be in the movement of water, and oranges made us feel the desert heat and lack of trees in

new construction.

The stand out performances were from the parents, standing firm in their resolve not to yield to

bureaucratic pressure to allow progress to level their home. I loved the playfulness between

Abrana (Charín Álvarez) and Manuel (Eddie Torres) and their long-lived love. They chase each

other and collapse together laughing, race to climb high in the hills to look at the ravine, the

sort of instinctive touching we usually associate with a new relationship, and between young

people. Their delight in one another and clear essential mutual support was real and beautifully

conveyed. Álvarez in particular seemed both young and middle aged, full of life and

exhausted. She is very funny and her low, richly textured voice had me hanging on her words.

In the Artistic Directors’ Note it’s made clear that the most important tenet of this play, for

Steppenwolf, is ‘rebellious imagination’. The protagonist is a young Latina who has moved

from her home in a ravine to the city. The constant roar of traffic is counterposed with sounds

of wildlife in the valley in the split stage. Soledad (Leslie Sophia Pérez) is a community

organizer leading the silenced to confront authorities, in the body of the man from the

Department of Works (Tim Hopper). From her podium she dissects the report he seems so

proud of, pulling him up on pejorative phrases, questioning the authenticity of the community

consultation, of the presence of a purported native man who happily hands over all rights to

the land. She shows up his hypocrisy and goes further to mock his physical limitations,

despising the messenger and using him in her political theater. He rebukes her for it and

audience sympathies waver.

The two characters played by Isabel Quintero are so physically different I was not always sure it

was the same actor. Her Coyote menaced and dominated her scenes and her Syera Loma is

comical and explosive by surprising turns. The coyote mask and cloaks were brilliantly

constructed, showing bits of human face through a metal structure that was both caged animal

and predator deadly.

A home what howls directed by Laura Alcalá Baker only runs for a few public performances through Saturday March 2nd at the Steppenwolf Ensemble Theatre at 1650 North Halsted Street in Lincoln Park. Go immerse yourself in it.

For tickets and info go to or call the Box Office (312) 335-1650.

photo by Michael Brosilow

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