A simplistic story gets a facile staging in 'Wolves' at convergence-continuum

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Wolves;Through May 30, by convergence-continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074, convergence-continuum.org

One of the things gay children grow up without is their own set of stories — their own fairy tales, if you will — that teach them lessons about the adult world they will eventually enter. Where is the gay version of Cinderella or Rapunzel? And what about Little Red Riding Hood?

Well we now have the last one touched upon in Wolves by Steve Yockey, now being produced by convergence-continuum. Even though many traditional fairy tales display rather shocking levels of violence, this version is certainly not for kiddies as it involves some rough sex play and an even rougher demise for one of the characters.

Playwright Yockey sets out to tell a modern version of Little Red, but his story is lacking in sufficient wit to carry off an interesting take on that familiar yarn. And since director Cory Molner doesn't apply a strong enough style for the proceedings, the play is performed in a strangely realistic manner that does the script no favors.

True to the genre, it starts off with a narrator (Theresa Pedone) who introduces us to Ben, a young and rather neurotic gay man from the sticks who is sharing a flat in a big, scary city in Once-Upon-A-Time, USA. Right from the beginning, the narrator is slipping warnings into her riffs, saying, "It's safe, until you start to think that it's not." And she warns Ben and the audience to beware of false expectations.

Soon, we see Ben (Eric Sever) with his roommate and very recent ex-lover Jack (Beau Reinker), and it's clear their relationship has become testy. Jack is preparing to go out trolling for companionship, and Ben tries to keep him at home, telling him that homicidal "wolves" are on the prowl on those mean streets. Jack thinks Ben's worries are overblown and heads off to cruise the local bars anyhow.

Soon Jack returns with his catch, a young guy he's nicknamed "Wolf" to provoke his roommate. The ploy works even better than Jack could have imagined, as unstable and not-so-gentle Ben thrashes about in the apartment. Meanwhile, Jack and the Wolf are exploring relationship options on the couch until they hit on an option that works for both of them, after Wolf slaps Jack in the face. Turned on, they lip lock — which triggers an axe-wielding Ben to intercede.

The storyline is pretty simple stuff, with little exposition defining who these people really are and why they have the problems they do. That is fine and to be expected in a fairy tale. But the production desperately needs an inventive, overarching style that would help lift this pedestrian story to another level. Instead, director Molner treats the piece like it was Death of a Salesman, having his three male actors play their parts in a (you should excuse the expression) straight and naturalistic manner. Without an extra layer of performance depth, Yockey's fable flops about like a beached carp.

It's possible that this still might have worked had the actors been able to overcome the deficiencies at hand, but that is asking an awful lot of any crew of performers, and it isn't in the offing this time at con-con. Reinker does his best, making Jack at least interesting until his mental breakdown after the violence. But Sever never finds the key to Ben's needy persona, launching into multiple monologues without a clear destination in mind. As the Wolf, Allen exudes some animal magnetism but his softness with lines on opening night undercut his effectiveness.

Ultimately, the boys decide to chop up the Wolf and bag him for disposal. And when they emerge from that task, covered in blood, they seem to have re-bonded in their now mutually agreed-upon fear of wolves in the night.

Of course, every fairy tale needs some magic, and that is provided by Pedone, as she stops some scenes with a clap of her hands and interacts with the other characters. And she does exhibit an archness that seems interesting at first: a twisted fairy godmother, perhaps? But no, that thread is never developed. Indeed, the playwright uses the narrator mostly as a snarky meta-observer, as he does with the ghost of the Wolf when he comments on the activities post-mortem.

Looking at his own mutilated body, he wonders about his erstwhile associates, "What's wrong with these guys?"

What's wrong with them is a 70-minute script with a half-baked story and bland staging that doesn't take nearly enough chances.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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