Christmas has come early for fans of good writing and excellent acting, courtesy of Stray Cat Theatre's production of Steve Yockey's Wolves. The play, which squeaks onto my list of best plays of 2012 at the very end of the year, is a violent drama with no real gore; a poetic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that swings effortlessly between deep thinking and dark comedy.
Yockey's story, at once graceful and mean, is a cautionary tale about the dangers of hiding out from the world. Jack and Ben are young gay men who live together in a fifth-floor walk-up in an unnamed big city. They were briefly and recently lovers, and Ben — who may be mentally ill — wants Jack to stay always at home with him, where he'll be safe from the "wolves" that prowl the city, looking for weaklings to devour and destroy. And indeed, terrible things happen when Jack goes out one night, returning with a strange man — terrible things folded into droll delusions that have us wondering what's real.
Playwrights rarely depict neurotics whose stories we can't somehow recognize as our own, so Yockey's trio of men are archetypal in many ways. And our narrator, who starts and stops the action with a clap of her hands and provokes us with quippy asides, isn't unlike a lot of omniscient storytellers from better-known plays. But director Ron May's careful staging quickly reveals deeper, less conventional sides of these people — angry, confused, battered survivors whose story makes a sharp left and quickly becomes a nightmare that none of us can recognize as our own.
It takes a special sort of actor to sustain such a story as Wolves, and May has filled a stage with them. As the Narrator, Yolanda London is at once appealing and slightly frightening; Tyler Eglen, our would-be protagonist, switches easily from cajoling manipulation and stern determination to aggressive emotion. Samuel E. Wilkes creates a compelling portrait of a man battling his own fantasies, shifting deftly from imagined troubles to very real fear and terror. And Adam Pinti, who must play gentle vulnerability and stark terror, is a revelation. Even in the end, slumped in a chair and wearing a vacant expression, this actor is captivating.
Clocking in at a little more than an hour, Wolves is a deeply thought-out work, elegantly written and painstakingly performed. There is no mistletoe or merriment, but if you see one play this holiday season, it should be this one.