The story centers around a pair of former lovers who are still roommates - one (Robbie Dwight as Ben) whose grim (Grimm?) paranoia keeps him tucked away in his safe apartment, away from the dangers of the forest (no, city...no, forest...), and the other (Artun Kircall as Jack) who wants to venture out into the world for a little late night "hunting." When Jack brings Wolf (Jonathan West) home, he's hoping to prove a point to his maybe crazy/maybe deeply insightful, shut-in roommate, but they all get a whole lot more than any of them bargained for. In true in-yer-face form, the intimate, in-the-round staging and the lack of intermission gives the audience no escape from the unrelenting depravity of Yockey's world
I'll admit, the show is a little slow getting started. The transition from the easy, breezy, largely improvised preshow into the beginning of the actual story is a little clunky, and that clunkiness pops up here and there throughout the show - pretty much whenever the Lisa Mellin's Megan Mullally-channelling narrator goes off script. She tends to linger in her pauses a little more than she has earned, and the pace occasionally suffers for it. And the first argument between Jack and Ben just goes on a little too long, but that's more of a script problem than a problem with the production. Once Jack brings Wolf home, however, the play really gets moving. And the final sequence is a pretty thrilling payoff to not only the story, but the exceptional staging. Director Brandy Joe Plambeck uses every inch of the tiny little Ringwald space to great effect, using the audience to help create Ben and Jack's tiny, confined apartment - thereby subtly implicating us in the gruesome events that unfold.
The cast is overall a pretty strong ensemble, with Jonathan West's Wolf as a particular standout. Certainly his character is given the most variety by the playwright (I don't want to spoil anything, but if this is a Red Riding Hood story, you can assume that things don't go too smoothly for the wolf), but his easy smile (ah... that smile) and powerful presence make him immensely charming and watchable. We like him immediately, and he remains believable through every stage of his transformation. Robbie Dwight navigates Ben's twisted neuroses with delicacy, keeping us guessing as to who really is the hero, the victim or the villain. And he does an excellent job bringing humanity to the moments of complex, eerie poetry. Artun Kircall as Jack has the dubious honor of playing - in my opinion - the most underwritten character in the play, so his performance early on sometimes comes across a little forced, but his vulnerability in the last third of the play really brought me around. Lisa Melinn as the Narrator has probably the toughest job in the show, jumping in and out of the action of the play, and playing fast and loose with the fourth wall. She and Dwight have great chemistry for the most part, and though she can be a little self-indulgent at times, her sass (and man, is she sassy) makes her generally an awful lot of fun. And do yourself a favor: come a little early to catch the onstage preshow antics of Dwight and Melinn. They have a great time there establishing the safety of Ben's apartment (and Dwight's voice is worth the effort to be there a little early).
On a technical note, as much as Dan Morrison's scenic design serves and energizes the production, his lighting design muddies it. Though there are a handful of very cool practical lighting images (his contribution to the final sequence of the play is excellent), overall the lighting for the show is more clumsy and heavy-handed than the limitations of the technology can really excuse, and could have benefited from a little subtlety.
Wolves is definitely one to see if you've got a taste for the maudlin. It's clever and dark and fun in an unsettling sort of way. And if there is, in fact, a moral, I think you'll find it might have something to do with being careful what you wish for...and maybe don't piss off your narrator.
Wolves by Steve Yockey (Director: Brandy Joe Plambeck; Robbie Dwight as Ben; Artun Kircall as Jack; Jonathan West as Wolf; and Lisa Melinn as Narrator) continues at The Ringwald Theatre, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays through September 30th. Tickets range from $10-$20, and students are entitled to $5 off with their ID (except Mondays). For more information, visit www.TheRingwald.com.