Redtwist's Wild Wolves, with Pride
Redtwist’s 2023-2024 “Season of Pride” is off to a bang with Wolves an explosive horror piece billed as a “gay re-imagining” of Little Red Riding Hood. From Steve Yockey, a prolific LA playwright and ex-Supernatural producer, Wolves is a unique experience promising “intimate, gory drama.” Monique Marshaun’s narrator warns us at the start there is no moral to the story that follows—audiences would do well to heed her warning. Wolves is messy, violent, and challenging, leaving more questions than answers; It can be a worthwhile endeavor to unpack as a theatregoer but be prepared for a conversation.
Synopsis, in brief, with spoilers: Boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy & boy still live together in New York, boy brings other boy home to mess with first boy, first boy murders new boy in cold blood. Tale as old as time, right? Ben and Jack—the aforementioned boys—spend the taut, provocative 75-minutes of Wolves in the kind of power struggle that can easily be mistaken for intimacy when you stop squinting. They’re roommates and ex-lovers who these days spend most of their time together in the big city bickering about the tiny things. Ben (Joshua Servantes) is a tough nut to crack; soft-spoken and incorrigibly poetic, he prefers to stay indoors with his Chinese takeout and his Stanley Kubrick film collection, waxing macabre at a moment’s notice about the “wolves” and “animals” that await anyone who ventures into the streets of New York (or “The Forest” as he calls it). Jack (Gardy Gilbert) wants to escape the malaise and find relationships beyond Ben, and Ben desperately needs Jack to stay with him in his introverted purgatory. When Jack goes out anyway and brings home a man he refers to only as Wolf (Michael Dias), Ben, and the play, spirals into violence and insanity.
There is some marvelously intimate and human acting in Wolves, much of it from Michael Dias’s
intricately constructed Wolf. He is in one moment a deadpan comic genius and the next a visceral, physical horror. His scenes with Gardy Gilbert embody the vulnerable storefront acting that regularly puts Redtwist on the map. Dusty Brown, in their first full season as Redtwist’s artistic director, directs Wolves with a steady hand and keen eye to the piece’s complexity. Characters pace like caged animals around Rose Johnson’s set—a minimalist endeavor in red and black tones, highlighting a sprawling fairy- tale tree and a “Chekov’s axe” hung against the wall. Madeline Felauer’s costumes tend to push the one-to-one analogy of the piece, from Jack’s quite literally red hood to Ben’s hunter flannel.
Yockey’s script is a strange beast, lilting from abstract soliloquy to dry realism—It’s inches away from meshing the two styles perfectly, but can’t quite seem to close the gap. In portraying the sociopathic murder of a normal, if disconcerting, man engaged in questionably communicative BDSM roleplay, its role as a piece of queer horror and “gay reimagining” seems to be to shed light on internalized bigotry within queer sexuality. When Ben warns Jack of the “Wolves” that could kill him, what is he really talking about? Older gay men with kinks he sees as predatory? Ben’s arc in the play appears to stem from a fear that queerness outside their apartment will kill Jack. While this is meaningful discourse for theatre to engage in, I worry that Wolves’ use of Ben’s growing psychosis as a pacing device is building a house of cards equating neurodivergence with homophobia and violence.
Little Red Riding Hood, as a fairy tale, owes its cultural endurance to its three core images: innocence, villainy, and heroism. We hold on to the story as we want to believe these things exist. For better or for worse, Wolves is not as much a reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood as a subversion of its underlying themes with original characters and a bloody splash zone. The piece works best when it plays with our expectations of heroism/villainy and takes risks to scare us, but stumbles when Ben’s psychosis becomes a stereotype. It’s a thought provoking shot at queer horror, but it’s a shame the horror is sourced in shallowly portrayed mental illness.
Wolves is playing at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W Bry Mawr in Chicago, Thursdays through Sundays until November 5, 2023. For tickets and information go to https://www.redtwisttheatre.org/wolves
Note: Production contains extreme violence, sexual content, and strobe lighting. Viewer discretion is extremely advised.
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