Review: Where We’re Born (Steppenwolf Theatre)

| June 15, 2011

An unforgettable, poignant dramedy



Steppenwolf Theatre presents
Where We’re Born
Written by Lucy Thurber
Directed by Brad Akin
at Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through June 18  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

A college student returns home on break.  Beers, shots, joints: life is exactly how she left it. The escape to the comfortably familiar lulls her into trying something new.  But once you disturb the balance, can you ever come home again? Steppenwolf Theatre, in collaboration with Northwestern University MFA’s programs, presents NEXT UP, a theatrical project that showcases direction and design of NU graduates performed by professional actors. Where We’re Born is one of three plays in repertory.  

Tony has always been there for Lilly.  He’s been her protector from classmates, her mother and her mother’s string of loser boyfriends. Despite their ambitious differences and geographic distance, the cousins still have a strong bond.  They have no secrets.  Lilly goes to college, Tony goes to work. When Lilly revisits Tony’s world of drunken drudgery, she is welcomed home by his friends.  Their daily shtick parties on without interruption.  As the music blares them all into a hazy high, an unexpected hook-up derails the locals’ routine.  Sex and secrets redefine home forever.  Where We’re Born has small town simplicity with residential complications.      


Playwright Lucy Thurber, scenic designer Scott Davis and director Brad Akin plop the audience into an established blue-collar world.  Thurber skillfully creates character camaraderie with inside jokes and easy, unimportant banter.  Davis masterfully builds the home environment.  Within the theatre set in the round, Davis constructs a home inside and out.   Living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and front yard, it’s all there with functional lighting, discarded beer bottles and a layer of filth. Akin expertly stages simultaneous scenes within the wall-less confines.  Outside, people are shooting the shit.  Inside, a couple is sneaking in a quickie.  With Akin, there is no hiding the emotion.  It’s visible at every angle.  Aided by fight choreographer Matt Engle, Akin transitions home from playfully hang-out to house of pain.   

Akin pivots the talented cast around in perfectly boozy avoidance. The friends are recognizable twenty-somethings stuck in dead-end lives. A hardened Audrey Francis (Franky) delightfully perks up from her doldrums. When Francis secretly flirts, her whole being radiates lively hope.

Playing an intoxicating tool, Shane Kenyon (Tony) rages with a scary intensity. Caroline Neff (Lilly) is a hot mess of emotions. Jealous, lustful, desperate, miserable, Neff gives a passionate performance. Watching the drama from the sidelines, Max Lesser (Drew) and Tim Musachio (Vin) are hilarious good buddies. The party ambiance authentically spirals from comfortable to angst with substance.

Where We’re Born is set in a familiar state. It’s any Hometown, USA. Childhood chums destined to live a lifetime in repetitive motion. It’s a heartbreaking story of the one who got away. Where We’re Born is an unforgettable poignant dramedy.

Rating: ★★★


Running time:  Two hours includes an intermission.  All photos by Michael Brosilow.




Audrey Francis, Shane Kenyon, Max Lesser, Tim Musachio and Caroline Neff

behind the scenes

Brad Akin (director); Scott Davis (sets); Mekey Guberinic (costumes); Nastassia Jimenez (lighting); Andre Pluess (sound); Matt Engle (fight choreographer); Michael Brosilow (photos)


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Category: 2011 Reviews, Katy Walsh, Steppenwolf, Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, Theatre Festival

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