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Steppenwolf Takes 'How Long Will I Cry?' To The Neighborhoods Most Affected By Violence

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 11, 2013 9:55PM

A scene from How Long Will I Cry?: Voices of Youth Violence, courtesy Steppenwolf Theatre Company

What may be the most important play of the year to date is happening at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. How Long Will I Cry?: Voices of Youth Violence is an unflinching look at the violence that grips Chicago told from the viewpoints of the families of Chicago murder victims, people attempting to foster positive change in the lives of people who have been touched by violence and, in one effective instance, the words of a victim of gun violence.

DePaul University student Francisco “Frankie” Valencia was murdered at a Humboldt Park house party in 2009 by Narciso Gatica, a gangbanger who opened fire in the gangway after he and friends were refused entry. Gatica was convicted and sentenced to 90 years in prison for Valencia’s murder in 2010. Berly Valladeres, who provided Gatica with the Tec 9 semiautomatic handgun used in the shooting, was sentenced to 70 years. Valencia’s hopes, fears and dreams, simultaneously trapped in amber and cursed to never come true as a result of Gatica’s actions, are given voice courtesy of the playbook by Miles Harvey and the full sharing of Valencia’s writings by his mother, Joy McCormack. Valencia’s story and how McCormack struggled in the aftermath of his death form one of the emotional foundations of How Long Will I Cry? In a post-viewing discussion over the weekend, McCormack said the pain of losing a child to violence never goes away. “If I lost a child to illness or natural causes, I could explain it and understand that,” she said. “To lose Frankie the way I did is senseless.”

Harvey wrote How Long Will I Cry? after discussing the 2009 beating death of Derrion Albert with Hallie Gordon, Artistic and Educational Director of the Steppenwolf for Young Adults series, as a way to voice how they felt about the violence rocking Chicago. Valencia’s and Albert’s deaths form two watershed moments in the play, but Harvey also looks at Pastor Corey Brooks efforts to turn a rundown hotel on the South side into a community center. McCormack went on to form Chicago Citizens for Change, a group dedicated to help Chicago families touched by violence. (McCormack told a story at Saturday’s post-viewing discussion about how her group helped Albert’s mother Anjanette Albert deal with her grief.) The play, culled from over 4,000 pages of transcripts compiled by Harvey and his DePaul creative writing students, only scratches the surface but, for a rare moment, puts faces to the names we see in the crime blotters and newspaper headlines. (Harvey, DePaul and Steppenwolf will release a book version of How Long Will I Cry? for later this spring Gordon said will be given to libraries, schools and anti-violence groups for free.)

Given the subject matter, this is a play that could get away with beating its audience over the head. But Harvey and the direction of Edward F. Torres doesn't take that route, instead letting the narrator (Mark Ulrich as a fictional Harvey) and the actors give voice to the scores of interviews conducted for the project. How Long Will I Cry? resists coming to simple solutions for the violence epidemic in Chicago — because there are none — and instead focuses on how these people who have been scarred physically and emotionally by violence cope with it in their own ways.

How Long Will I Cry? is nearing the end of its Steppenwolf run later this month but the play begins a weeklong tour of Chicago Public Library locations, some of them in the neighborhoods hardest hit by violence. All of the performances are free but reservations are required. Each performance will be followed by a discussion.

March 12 at 11:00am
Austin Branch

5615 W Race Ave

March 13 at 11:00am
Little Village Branch

2311 S. Kedzie Avenue

March 13 at 5:00pm
Gary Comer Youth Center

7200 S. Ingleside Avenue

March 14 at 11:00am
Harold Washington Library Center

400 S. State Street

March 14 at 5:00pm
Whitney Young Branch

7901 S. King Drive

March 16 at 11:00am
Humboldt Park Branch

1605 N. Troy Street