Author: Rita Kalnejais
At: Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn Ave. Tickets: Steeptheatre.com or 773-649-3186; $27-38. Runs through: May 25
Steep Theatre's First Love is the Revolution will make you deeply uncomfortable, but not before it wins you over with bright, young enthusiasm. It's brand of innocence would be perfect for young audiences were it not so gleefully filthy. Author Rita Kalnejais has given voice to a guileless inner-city menagerie, and director Devon de Mayo brings the creatures to life in deceptively simple ways.
Rdeca ( Isa Arciniegas ) is a fledgeling fox, the only one of her siblings ( Curtis Edward Jackson, Jin Park ) who has yet to make her first kill. Something strange stops her when the opportunity to kill a mole ( Alex Gillmor ) presents itself: Rdeca discovers she can converse with any of her prey in a shared language. The skill comes in handy as she meets Basti ( Jordan Arredondo )an odd human boy looking for any escape from his father, Simon ( Jose Nateres ), and their tortured home life. They find a friendship that is outside the parameters of human or animal social order, and neither the animal or human community trusts it. Rdeca's mother, Cochineal ( Lucy Carapetyan ), banishes her from their skulk and, in turn, Rdeca aims to turn Basti into a new sort of fox and form a new sort of family. It almost seems like the arrangement will work, until very adult decisions about sex and justice enter the fray.
The remarkable element that makes First Love Is the Revolution stick with you, long after you've left the theater is ingenious physicality. Foxes nuzzle and roughhouse, cats slink, dogs menace and overpower, and chickens take dainty steps on sky-high heels. Director Devon de Mayo and the artistic team make the show a visual masterpieceand it has to be, because, in a story about interspecies love and human abuses, you'll be compelled to look away with every fiber of your being at some junctures. It may bear a passing resemblance to The Fox & The Hound, but this is not the same sort of sweet and digestible fare.
The ensemble is in perfect tune with each other for every physical and emotional boundary pushed. Both Lucy Carapetyan ( as Cochineal ) and Jose Nateres ( as Simon ) offered honest reads on being powerless and unprepared for parenthood, when you are left to shoulder a load on your own, despite your mental state or aptitude. The team working hardest to keep the show buoyant against mounting darkness is Isa Arciniegas ( as Rdeca ) and Jordan Arredondo ( as Basti ). They manifest opposite energies, drawn inexplicably together; Arciniegas is in constant motion and Arredondo is slow and still; she is loud and confident, while he is withdrawn and always second-guessing. They make you hold out hopebut, as always, be prepared to have that hope extinguished.