Teatro Vista presents a relevant play
Police brutality and race relations in Chicago have peppered headlines in increasing numbers the past few years. In Ike Holter’s thrilling, new drama, The Wolf at the End of the Block, audiences are confronted with such an incident through the world of Abe (short for Alejandro), a poor, Latino man working a dead-end job that his friend gave him. After a brutal personal attack, Abe's sister Miranda enlists a high-profile investigative reporter, FridaVertalo, to broadcast details of the attack on television and put a face to the racially-motivated hate crime. As the tensely-plotted 85-minute play progresses, we learn that there is more to this case than meets the eye, calling into question the ethics at play for all involved.
Masterful script illustrates Holter’s talents
Holter’s Chicago-set oeuvre has found considerable success on Chicago’s stages in recent years, and with good reason. His characters speak with a lyrical potency backed by an articulate and authentic Chicagoan vernacular. Listening to Abe’s long monologue at the beginning of the piece, I was astonished at the dexterity and rhythm of the character’s words, even as it sounded as naturally phrased as everyday conversation. Holter’s words pack a punch, and to see a cast and director embrace their subtexts and emotions so fully is a treat to behold.
Emotionally raw performances ground drama
As spectacular as Holter’s playwriting is, it could be a major hindrance if performed by a less-than-capable cast. Fortunately for Ricardo Gutiérrez’ Teatro Vista production, this is not the case. Each actor delivers a pitch-perfect performance, none so much as Gabriel Ruiz in a blistering performance as Abe. Covered in blood and badly bruised, he launches us into a free-falling, fast-talking rollercoaster of emotion at the beginning of The Wolf at the End of the Block that doesn’t relent until the final blackout.
Ruiz’s work is matched by the kinetic performance of Bear Bellinger as Nunley, Abe’s employer and friend. Bellinger fills Nunley with a euphoric sense of self, strutting and spinning as he converses with Miranda and Abe about the state of their neighborhood and Chicago at large. A similarly vulnerable and believable Ayssette Muñoz fills Abe’s kid-sister Miranda with the anxious enthusiasm of a girl with lofty aspirations but limited resources to attain them. A forceful performance by Sandra Marquez as no-nonsense reporter FridaVertalo and a truly chilling turn by James D. Faruggio round out this exceptional cast.
Natural design draws you in
Matching the script and actors in honesty is a richly-textured set by Milo Bue. Featuring a mix of worn and weathered industrial materials, his detailed set evokes a rundown neighborhood on the West Side with such specificity that you swear you’ve walked past it before. Its chipped stone steps and bottle strewn windowsills are complemented expertly by Diane D. Fairchild’s lighting design. A sunset rendered through shadows cast by pillars onto a grungy wall of glass panes is particularly evocative and adds to the setting’s believability.
Featuring a stellar cast and director unafraid of shying away from Holter’s piercing script, The Wolf at the End of the Block is an insightful, engrossing drama rich with truth and relevance.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Performances run through March 5
Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 3 p.m.
Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Avenue
Performances are $25-$30.
Student tickets are $15.
Senior tickets are $18.
Up to 20 Early Bird tickets are available on a first come, first served basis for $18. Use code EARLYBIRD.
For tickets and information on group rates, visit TeatroVista.org, call the Victory Gardens box office, (773) 871-3000, or visit Tuesday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 12 p.m. to
6 p.m., or Sunday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
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