Tanya Saracho seems to have adapted Sandra Cisneros’ book, The House on Mango Street, with creativity, sensitivity and heart. I say “seems to,” as I’ve never read the book by the celebrated Chicago author.
But what I do know is it’s an enjoyable 90-minute celebration of a young girl’s imagination and desire. Said girl is Esperanza (the lovely Sandra Delgado), a confident young Latina who desperately longs for more than her broken down red brick home on Mango Street. As she daydreams and searches for a way to break out for a better life, she runs into a colorful cast of Mango Street locals who share their stories and experiences with her.
There’s not much more to it than that. Various episodes occur to guide Esperanza’s maturity into a young lady, including discovering she has hips, that people sometimes lie and hurt each other, and, ultimately, how to accept your current place in life without letting it weigh down your dreams. The ending is rather abrupt, which I’m not sure is an adaptation issue having never read the book. As it is, I wanted Esperanza to tell us what she’s learned.
While not technically a musical, the most exciting aspect of this adaptation are the original music compositions by Tamara Roberts. These lively tunes, which organically emerge in the background and are often accompanied by the actors themselves, are the heartbeat and soul of the show. Delgado is given something akin to an “I want” tune late in the show, which started to verge into musical theatre land…but mostly the use of music in the show is subtle and quite effective.
This is a perfect show for school groups and young adults. Well-produced, with straightforward, earnest performances from a bright young cast — it’s great kick-off for the 2009-2010 Steppenwolf For Young Adults season.
The House on Mango Street runs through November 1, 2009 in the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. For more information, visit steppenwolf.org.
Christina Nieves, Belinda Cervantes and Sandra Delgado (Mari Stratton, upper left) in Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ of The House on Mango Street by Tanya Saracho, based on the novel by Sandra Cisneros and directed by Hallie Gordon. Photo by Peter Coombs