You may remember the Midwest premiere of playwright Steve Yockey’s darkly magical Octopus at the Phoenix Theatre in 2009. Josefa Beyer gave it four stars in NUVO. I saw it four times.
This month, Theatre on the Square is giving Yockey’s Wolves its Indianapolis premier. Two Octopus actors — Jason Gloye and Nate Walden — are in it, along with Lucinda Phillips and Jeff Martin.
On the surface, it's about two gay men who are no longer a couple but still share an apartment in a big city. Ben (Gloye) is lonely but fearful to the point of never going out. He doesn't want his former lover to go out either. In his mind, the city is like a forest filled with dangerous beasts.
Jack (Walden) is also lonely but he wants to go out and hunt for someone to take the edge off that loneliness. He also thinks that by bringing a dangerous-looking man home from the bars he can convince Ben that “just because some wolves were bad once doesn’t mean all wolves are bad.”
Jack thinks Ben is crazy and Ben thinks Jack is stupid. The audience thinks so too, but we sympathize with them not wanting to be labelled as such because we’ve been there. This relationship story is rendered creepy by the fact that there is a female Narrator (Phillips) whispering frequently in Ben’s ear when she isn't flirting with the audience. She is sexy, maternal and terrifying.
When Ben does come home with a Wolf (Martin)...well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing director Lori Raffel’s minimalist set design cleans up easily and that its cool metallic cityscape in the background wouldn’t show blood spatters anyway. Eric Bryant’s fight choreography is excellent and full of surprises and the actors execute it well.
There are many other references to “Little Red Riding Hood.” Jack wears a red hoodie. The Narrator often retreats to a tree stump outside the urban apartment when she wants to observe a conversation between the two men. Ben’s weapon of choice when he thinks Jack needs rescuing is the giant axe that just happens to be leaning up against the firewood piled just inside the apartment door. But don’t go expecting a predictable retelling of the classic folktale. There are moments of humor but Yockey also takes us off the path in disturbing new ways with no guarantees of happy endings.
The night I saw this show was one of those unlucky tech nights that just happen sometimes in live theatre. Curtain was mysteriously delayed for several minutes after the curtain talk finished. The lights did surely unintentionally odd things. And a promised “haze” effect never materialized. Perhaps because of all this, the acting seemed to take a while to gel too.
So I took off 1.5 stars. However, I put a half-star back because, even with all the technical difficulties, I left the theatre feeling thoroughly creeped out in a satisfying way and intrigued by what the script had to say about being a hero.