Friday, December 7, 2012

Wolf Cry Wolf, a review

On Sunday, EJ and I had the immense pleasure of seeing the New Theater Projects latest play, Wolf Cry Wolf. The play, by Austin playwright Kevin Kautzman, tells the story of two childhood friends, Steph (Meredith Deighton) and Jane (Ramona Lucius). Steph returns to her hometown in North Dakota after having been gone for a number of years. The two women quickly delve into memories of the summer they first met. The summer when Jane told Steph her biggest secret: she knows how to turn into a wolf.

The majority of the play takes place during that fateful summer when 11 year-old Steph moved in next door to 13 year-old Jane. The two become friends and Jane reveals to Steph that she can turn into a wolf at night. Steph becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming a wolf and insists Jane show her how. During a nigh-time prowl the two girls come across a creepy older boy, George (Kris Reilly). He is 15 and can turn into a crow, whom he has named Crow of Night.

The characters in Wolf Cry Wolf live in that strange transition period between childhood and young adulthood, that time when you have a pretty good grasp on reality but are still holding out that there might be something else out there beyond our normal perception. Steph, the youngest at 11, seems to have the most trouble differentiating reality from make-believe. In contrast, Jane and George constantly reassure each other that it's all a game and that nobody can really turn into an animal. Right? The strength of Wolf Cry Wolf is its ability to capture the raw emotion and sometimes confusion from a long-ago summer. The three actors did a great job bringing the audience into their world, especially Kris Reilly, who transforms from stuttering misfit to charismatic and knowing older gentleman, as the girls, especially Jane, look to him as an authority in their fantasy world and a recipient of confused affection. You get the sense that they are a band of kids who become friends because they don't quite fit in anywhere else.

I also really, really, really liked the minimalist set which consisted of several tree stumps and a large square of turf grass (see above). The cast and set (Mix Studio Theater is quite small) work together to make a very intimate performance. Though the script felt a little uneven at points, TNPT's production of Wolf Cry Wolf comes off as a well-told story. Is it perfect? No. But what it lacks in polish it more than makes up in charm. Technical faults in storytelling notwithstanding, you feel--or remember feeling--right along with these characters as they sort out the magic and wounds of childhood. Compare it to, for instance, Silver Linings Playbook, which we saw last night, and which had similar storytelling deficiencies (specifically, the endings of each seemed unearned) but SLP lacked the emotional immediacy. Where would you rather spend your $10 this weekend? (Preach.--Ed.) The bottom line is that EJ and I both enjoyed the play a lot and it's a lot of fun to be able to see exciting, fresh plays so close to home. Local theater is great.

Wolf Cry Wolf runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday through December 16th. Shows are at 8pm at Mix Studio Theater in Ypsilanti. Tickets are $10 for students and industry, $15 for general admission. You can buy them online for about a $1.50 transaction fee. New Theater Company also has an end of the year fundraising campaign going on right now. So if you'd like to become a smalltime theater patron, now's your chance.

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