No Place Like Home | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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No Place Like Home

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No Place Like Home, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Jessica Thebus has created a remarkably moving piece out of utterly familiar--or familial--material. Though occasionally lifting a bit too much from The Wizard of Oz, this impressionistic collection of true stories, adapted and directed by Thebus, makes marvelous use of the movie's central conceit: a house flying apart and blowing away.

Most of the homes described are in the process of falling apart, through violence or silence or because dad is leaving or mom has died. What Thebus makes clear is that this isn't some sociopathology of contemporary life but simply the reality that human connections fray and ultimately break. It's a solemn message she tempers by showing the universality of love and loss, through the simplicity of the tales (many contributed by the cast) and through the decision to have actors tell stories that couldn't possibly be their own.

The topics range from getting your share of mom's french fries to not being there when your brother dies; though any of these could turn sloppily sentimental, none does. This is partly because Thebus interweaves the stories so that no one takes too large a share of our emotional attention and partly because there are healthy doses of humor. But it's mostly because the eight performers (supplemented by a nine-member chorus) are so unaffected and direct. Instead of telling audience members what to feel, they allow us our own reactions. Mine was to sob.

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