WOLF PLAY Brings Child’s Play into the Ring – Review
In an intimate and overwhelming space, a runway setup to be exact, there is a magical piece of theatre happening called Wolf Play. The play defies conventions and challenges expectations in the most unexpected ways, bringing both a breath of fresh air and a heavy weight to a one-act, near-two-hour boxing match. The production comes to MCC after a previous run with Soho Rep in collaboration with Ma-Yi Theater Company.
The story begins, quickly, with a child listed for adoption in a dark online corner of a Yahoo (the website) group. What unfolds is a dynamic grappling with relationships and family, chosen and biological. Congealing it all together are cereal boxes, long-corded microphones, and the motifs of the Power Rangers. From the very start, Wolf Play’s entrance atmosphere and design (scenic by You-Shin Chen) transport audience members to an unfamiliar, yet immediately comfortable landing spot. Offstage doorways obscured with hollow filing cabinets, front row seats replaced with battered armchairs: we are part of this family now too, as those onstage try to interpret their new status quo.
And, given the talent, care, and fight of this family, it’s a welcoming embrace. Robin and Ash (Nicole Villamil and Esco Jouléy, both focused and sharp as ever) bring intensity in their delivery, and occasionally, physical actions. The pair are foiled by Ryan (Brian Quijada, skeptical from the start) and Peter (Christopher Bannow, high-strung, but quick) in a dynamic unrelentlessly frustrating. And, connecting together the key players and the inner workings of the script, Wolf (Jeenu) is played by a wondrous Mitchell Winter, holding heartbreak and hope in eye contact.
Perhaps one of the production’s greatest assets comes from the ensemble’s ability to fully immerse themselves in the story. In between scenes and transitions, actors are frequently placed in side areas or slightly obscured corners—smart direction from Dustin Wills, creating layered perspectives on the occurring events, even outside of the main participants.
The production thrives in its “scrappiness,” or, the versatility of each cobbled element included in the scrapbook slice of life. Most handheld props (Patricia Marjorie) double and triple with additional uses, turning them into metaphors. The quick-moving and fast-talking cast covers space and time with ease. The play speeds through events (matches, arguments, milestone achievements) without sacrificing narrative focus, notably making use of one-sided phone calls to ancillary characters. In this world building, playwright Hansol Jung exponentially increases the universe of the story with the small cast, arguably a much stronger and refreshing choice than the popular convention of forging ensemble tracks that swap between new characters and personas with each scene.
From taped-up bunting to infinite toothbrushes, the production's bare-boned, yet cohesively styled, sensibility allows the root of the story to shine through. Even the puppet version of Wolf, (operated by Winter, designed by Amanda Villalobos, and coached by Lake Simons), evokes emotional depth and candor through its thin, dowel-like, arms.
At the core of the show is an exemplary and complex discussion of family, parenting, and gender, yet the themes are more approachable than ever. Have you ever considered suspense and wonder in the context of the pink Power Ranger? Or that “affidavit” might sound like “after David” to a child? Wolf Play has an inordinate and exciting ability to confront the audience with themes they weren’t quite expecting to reckon with. At least not when ironic wolf-print graphic tees are involved.
Wolf Play is now open at the MCC Theater space. The production will play through March 19. For more info and tickets, click here.