How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence at Steppenwolf Theatre Company | Theater review
A new verbatim-theater piece attempts to untangle Chicago’s youth violence epidemic.
Assembled from interviews with dozens of Chicago residents, from teenagers to caregivers to rooftop camper Pastor Corey Brooks, How Long Will I Cry? is among the latest attempts to untangle Chicago’s epidemic of youth violence (see also Collaboraction’s current Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology). But Steppenwolf’s piece, part of a larger initiative dubbed Now Is the Time, is explicitly aimed at young audiences. Journalist and first-time dramatist Miles Harvey assembled the script from interviews conducted by his students at DePaul, with able assistance by verbatim-theater vet Kelli Simpkins and director Edward Torres. The result feels honest and affecting.
Harvey uses the 2009 shooting death of DePaul student Frankie Valencia as a touchstone, drawing from writings and videos the young man left behind as well as interviews with his mother (a devastating Tara Mallen) and a friend (Shannon Matesky) who survived the shooting. There’s also a narrator (Mark Ulrich) who speaks in Harvey’s voice—a framing choice that feels necessary to explicate the play’s context but also somewhat distancing; despite the ensemble’s terrific work, the piece can feel at times like an enhanced lecture.
Working on the same long, open traverse stage that’s concurrently home to Steppenwolf’s production of The Birthday Party, scenic designer William Boles outfits it with tall, narrow walls at each end that serve as screens for video projections, showing everything from old Chicago Defender headlines chronicling the rise of gang activity in the ’70s to the cell-phone video of Derrion Albert being beaten to death. The effect suggests Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain, if it displayed a more painful view of the city’s life.