Once upon a time; in the deepest and darkest part of the forest there is a murder. A murder complete with screaming, lots of screaming, and blood, lots of blood. To hear the story of this dark and edgy modern fairy tale, you need to get to Carnegie Mellon University’s Studio 201 in Point Breeze to see the Pittsburgh premier of Wolves by Steve Yockey, running this week only.
The action of Wolves takes place over one long evening in a “very small apartment in a very large city” belonging to Ben and Jack. These boys are ex-lovers and current roommates. Nothing bad could come of that, right? Ben wants to stay in and order Chinese, like the pair does almost every evening, but Jack wants—or needs—to go out. Ben warns Jack about the dangers of being out in the forest (the city) in the dark alone and tells him that he should be afraid of the animals out there. After much debate and one black eye, Jack goes out “hunting,” much to the disappointment of Ben, and brings back a big, bad Wolf to the apartment. Things turn violent and get messy when Ben tries to protect Jack. Through all of this and all the way to the end of our tale, an omniscient Narrator leads Ben, as well as the audience, through the story, and turns out to be a little vindictive herself.
Yockey is quickly rising as a fresh, inventive, and quirky voice in the world of theatre. He isn’t afraid to take risks and combines spectacle and realism with great skill. Wolves is a story of basic human emotions and needs and explores the themes of love, fear and sex. Director Ian-Julian Williams and an incredibly creative design team do just the right amount to highlight the themes and beautifully written dialogue in this script without going over the top. The set, designed by Christine Lee, begins as a tiny city apartment but turns out to have quite a few tricks up its sleeve. With two screens on either side, we are able to get insight from the Narrator when she’s off stage as well as get a different view of things happening live on the stage. Complemented by a gorgeous lighting design by Daniel Bergher and media design by Kevin Ramer, the set is the perfect playing space for this dark, twisted story. Even though the show had a few microphone issues at the beginning, the eerie sound design and original music by Emma Present blended well with the other design elements and helped keep the audience invested in this modern day fairy tale. My only real issue with the production was when the videos shown during the penultimate scene became a bit art house-y and took what, at its core, is a simple and human story and made it into something it isn’t—or shouldn’t be.
The stand out of the cast was David Patterson as the Wolf. He understood the dark comedy of the whole thing and was a true powerhouse. Madeline Wolf plays the Narrator with a sharp wit and has a commanding presence. We also get some nice moments from Jeremy Hois and Austin James Murray, as Ben and Jack respectively. Overall, the cast does a fine job with the material, but are slightly overpowered by the first-rate production elements.
In an interview printed in the program Yockey is asked about his favorite theatrical conventions, to which he replied “…I’ll embrace anything that completely transforms the space from beginning image to final image…” This production fully embraces that idea and gives us a completely different and new image at the end of the play than what we start with, both literally and figuratively. Seriously, the last haunting imagine of this play will stay with you when you leave. Williams and his production team were not afraid to take risks, and almost all of them pay off in this interesting and fresh piece of theatre.
Special thanks to CMU Drama for press tickets. Wolves runs through February 21st and tickets can be purchased here.
Performance Date: Wednesday, February 18, 2015