By Manning Harris
Steve Yockey’s “Wolves” is a sucker punch of a play that will shock, disturb, delight and may even induce nightmares. Its world premiere, directed by Melissa Foulger, is now playing at Actor’s Express through December 2.
In Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer,” as Mrs. Venable explains her late son’s lush, prehistoric garden to a visitor, she comments on one plant: “The Venus flytrap—a devouring organism—aptly named for the goddess of love.” Williams’ play is a nightmarish vision of love and desire in a carnivorous world.
So is “Wolves.” Playwright Yockey commented to the AJC that his play is “about the confluence of sex and fear in modern society and the idea of what increasingly isolating ourselves from the outside world can generate.” It “cannot be good,” as Macbeth said.
Ben (Clifton Guterman) and Jack (Brian Crawford) live in a small apartment in a nameless large city. They used to be romantic partners but now live together because of economic necessity. But Ben, who is overprotective and possessive and needy and still carries a torch (translation—he’s crazy as a bedbug), is appalled that Jack wants to go out a bit on his own, visit the local bar. Ben says the big city is dark and full of wolves; Jack tells him he’s just being paranoid.
Now Ben has been in consultation with the play’s Narrator (Kate Donadio), a comely young woman who warns us sweetly not to expect a happy ending. The Narrator and what she may represent (the id? the ego? the devil?) provide excellent post-viewing discussion; and Ms. Donadio makes her both comic and seductive.
Meanwhile, Jack defies Ben’s doomsday warnings and brings home an attractive young man (Joe Sykes) whom Jack calls (what else?) Wolf. Ben is not pleased. The polarity of sexual desire is briefly explored: Do you want to take or be taken? Hunt or be hunted? Oh, yes, Ben has an ax.
The four actors are terrific: Mr. Guterman is a stage animal and cannot hit a false note; Mr. Crawford deftly demonstrates the psychological axiom that we usually take on the characteristics of those with whom we associate; Mr. Sykes is compelling and powerful; and Ms. Donadio is ease and grace personified as a real femme fatale.
Special mention to the sound (Dan Bauman) and lighting (Ben Tilley) designers who do a superb job of scaring the daylights out of us at a couple of crucial moments. The play, incidentally, is only about an hour and 15 minutes.
Director Foulger has done Playwright Yockey (an Atlanta native who’s attained national prominence) proud. Mr. Yockey may be the real villain here: He wants to tear up the safe boundaries of our psyches and send us out of the theatre debating everything we’ve seen and heard. He succeeds.
Prepare to be shocked and entertained and amused; boredom, I assure you, is not an option.
For tickets and information, visit actors-express.com.