Gift Theatre Presents WOLF PLAY Review –Layers of Compelling Drama, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED best play pick, Thru August 18, 2019
In a world where people struggle to have children, one American couple decides to ‘un-adopt’ their young Korean son, American name Peter and Korean name Jeenu, because they have a newborn at home. After an internet chat room search for the right family, the father ‘re-homes’ the boy with a lesbian couple, where one half, Robin, is desperate for a child and the other half, Ash, is fighting for her career as a boxer. As the boy – who thinks he’s a wolf but is really a puppet – adjusts to his new life, he forms bonds with the unlikeliest of culprits while the adults squabble about what is ‘best for the child.’
The Gift Theatre Sets the Stage on the Back Wall
In the small theater we find the demarcation between floor and wall missing as props run up a crowded wall—a treat for the imagination. We feel clutter. Our curiosity is piqued. Later, the props hung on the back wall are cleverly used by the cast -- wall mounted sink, stove, bed, lamps. You understand this a tight fit for a family of three. (Arnel Sancianco : scenic design)
The Plot of WOLF STORY Is Ripped from Today’s Headlines
We are immersed in a 90-minute distillation of unwanted adopted children, marital conflict between both straight and gay couples, generational phobias, sibling rivalry, uncaring courts, adolescent angst, uninformed parenting, and failing careers. Yes, there is also love and fighting to survive with many layers of trauma and love fused in a tough whole.
Initially we meet Peter, the actor, speaking directly to the audience about how things are not always what we assume they are—that a boy can be a wolf, a lone wolf. We see this is how Peter (now appearing as a bunraku puppet handled by the actor) protects himself emotionally.from the vicissitudes of his former adoptive family and his new one. The casual disregard with which Peter’s father hands him over is sad and maddening. We quickly learn Peter’s back-story of emotional neglect. Now, his new family argues about their needs, ignoring Peter’s. He is a lone wolf who communicates with howling and physical attacks.
Peter/Jeenu senses he might be safe joining this pack—his new family. But all is shattered in the sad denouement of WOLF PLAY that is only too real in today’s world of emotionally abused children.
All Solid Performances in WOLF PLAY.
For this writer, the strong performances by the cast are in themselves reason for strongly recommending this work. Isa Arciniegas as Ash and Jennifer Glasse as Robin, the lesbian couple, were intense and intimate as most married couples in both love and dispute. Notable is Ms. Arciniegas’s boxing sequences which likely reflected intense training and many bruises. Al’Jaleel McGhee as Ryan, Robin’s brother, is the emotionally driven, self-designated man of the family whom you might already know from somewhere in your own family. Tim Martin portrays the father who put his child up for adoption on the internet. That Mr. Martin was able to play such a despicable character without going over the top solidified the toxicity of WOLF PLAY.
WOLF PLAY Powerfully Integrates Bunraku Puppeteering
The use of bunraku puppeteering and Dan Lin’s deft work as the actor/puppeteer is for this reviewer one of the most powerful performances from this all-around strong cast. He speaks to us as Peter/Jeenu then he becomes the wolf--- doing this in an instant as he moves from actor to puppeteer. The puppet and the actor are one, yet separate, each able to assume a part of wolf’s complex character, never sacrificing the beauty of suspended disbelief that this technique can deliver. In an email, Dan Lin confirmed that he had no background in bunraku. He learned his new skills through four intense weeks of training.
From the program notes we learn that Hanson Jung, the playwright, is from South Korea. She studied theater in the U.S. and most of her bibliography deals with American and Korean interaction, usually clouded with tragedy. In this writer’s opinion, Jess McLeod, Resident Director of Hamilton Chicago and an Ensemble Member at A Red Orchid Theater, crafted a diamond from Jung’s play.
For Chicago theater fans looking for plays in the genre of early Steppenwolf and current Steep Theatre, WOLF PLAY is sure to please. Theater fans looking for happy endings should choose another production, perhaps The Music Man at Goodman.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
(in alphabetical order):
Isa Arciniegas (Ash)
Jennifer Glasse* (Robin)
Dan Lin (Wolf)
Tim Martin (Peter)
AJ McGhee (Ryan)
Director: Guest Artist Jess McLeod
Creative Team :
Arnel Sancianco (scenic design), Stephanie Cluggish (costume design), Mike Durst(lighting design), Eric Backus (sound design), Stephanie Diaz (puppetry design), Emjoy Gavino (casting director), Sarah Luse(production manager), Lucy Schuh (assistant production manager), David Preis (technical director), Conchita Avitia (master electrician) and Colleen Layton (stage manager).
Thru Sunday, August 18, 2019
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 2:30 pm.
The Gift Theatre
4802 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders. Please visit her website for more information.
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