Fear is the strongest human emotion. Even a modicum of it can pierce our most base intellectual faculties and lead us to think (or worse, do) truly horrible things. Left unchecked, fear can grow in to a devouring madness that devolves us to base instincts. Despite the sophistication and elegance of modern society, every person always carries with them a simple set of animalistic drives: companionship, protectiveness, lust, aggression. Steve Yockey's Wolves is a deliciously dark contemporary fairy-tale that illustrates what happens when we let these impulses consume us and the damage done in the process. Exit 63 Theatre’s telling of this tale is a fantastic rendition that will leave you devastated and horrified in the best possible way.
Wolves follows the story of Ben and Jack, two lovers who live shoulder to shoulder in a cramped, urban apartment. Ben, a homebody from a rural area, takes supreme solace in Jack’s company as a means to stave off loneliness. Ben’s move has not been kind to his mental health, which is deteriorating rapidly into psychosis. Jack, on the other hand, is a charming socialite who revels in the energy of city nightlife. When Jack attempts to escape Ben’s grips and sneak out for a night on the town, Ben warns him of the dangers of the urban forest and beasts that inhabit it. Eager to snap Ben out it, Jack brings home one of the ‘wolves’ in an effort to prove to him wrong.
There are two major stand-outs of this production: the writing and the stage work. The production clocks in at only 60 minutes, which makes it all the more impressive to see how much organic depth the characters are given in such a short time. This is done through the smart use of a supernatural narrator, who serves to speak directly to the audience to deliver chilling monologues and pack in narrative weight to character actions. With such a short run-time, the production knew that every line would have to count and it was ensured that this was the case; each line either develops a character, moves the narrative forward, or foreshadows events to come in spectacular fashion. This makes for highly compelling work that holds a tight grip on your attention but also understands the impact of brevity.
The stage direction is also not to be missed here. Similar to the writing, it is astonishing what Exit 63 was able to do with the small black box space. The stage smartly uses cloth tape to create outlines of each room and uses minimal but impactful props to indicate the purposes of each place. However, what really sells the stage is each actor’s commitment to space work. For example, characters will turn their heads to talk around the ‘barriers’ and even slide down them in frustration during their many heated arguments. Exit 63’s commitment to detail in this production is astounding and the payoff is tangible.
The only major gripe with the production is the mixed metaphors that pop up in the final sections, especially with the role of the narrator. There are a few segments which feel as if they change the rules last minute and serve to muddy the mostly tight narrative. However, this is forgivable as it does not majorly detract from the overall shock of what is happening in the main plot. Exit 63’s production of Wolves is a smartly executed dark and twisted fairy tale that will grip you from beginning to end. (Ryan Moore)
Highly Recommended ★★★★
Wolves continues at The Frontier through June 2. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.