WOLF IN THE RIVER ***1/2
By: Patrick Christiano
The prolific award winning playwright Adam Rapp has returned to The Flea with a provocative new play, WOLF IN THE RIVER, featuring members of The Bats, The Flea’s resident acting company. Mr. Rapp is a renowned playwright, theatre director, novelist, and filmmaker, the author of numerous plays, including RED LIGHT WINTER, which was named a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize. With WOLF Rapp tangles with love and neglect as well as confronting the challenges of poverty and the concept of leaving a place behind, escaping.
His new play feels immersive, a primitive theatrical experience, staged in the round like a tribal ceremony on a bare bones set with a mound of dirt in the center. Everything feels smudged in a good way. There are no clear cut answers here.
As a dramatist Rapp’s most successful plays explore human emotions, while moving easily from naturalism to the surreal. His new play directed by the playwright himself is an often confusing 100 minutes, a combination of both the real and the unreal. The characters are puzzling and the plot perplexing. Yet Rapp is on to something here about the human condition and our reaction to the unpleasant aspects of brutality.
The Flea describes the play as “an impressionistic glimpse into the poetry of broken people.” On the surface Wolf in the River centers on the story of Tana (Kate Thulin), a 16-year-old young woman, who disappeared from her home and is found naked in the middle of the woods desperate to clothe herself. We learn from the narrator (Jack Ellis) that she is dead swallowed by the river and eaten by wolves. But is this really true?
Tana’s life till now is the crux of Rapp’s play. Her brother Dothan (William Apps), a discharged dishonorable veteran, is living in the backwoods of the south with a bizarre group of addicts, while struggling with demons he brought home after a tour of duty in Afghanistan. This cult-like group is run by a forceful Monty (Xanthe Paige), Dothan’s girlfriend. She sells blood she collects from the others through medical ports attached to their arms. Tana’s big dream is to escape and find her true love Debo (Maki Borden), a young man from Illinois, who she met two years earlier.
The success of the evening owes a great debt to the excellent acting. Both intense and focused, the actors maintain a level of commitment that is difficult to achieve, because the play brings up many intriguing questions with few clear answers. In addition to the main characters, there are a group of “Lost Souls,” who wander around the outside edge of the theater in back of the audience chanting in burlap costumes.
Near the beginning of the play we are told, we, the audience, are The River, one of the many metaphors in Rapp’s work. The responses from the river will change every night along with possibly the ending to play. The evening I attended Wolf played out with a moment of compassion. A choice of two very different outcomes were presented to a member of the audience, who choose the kinder path, which apparently could be different every night.
WOLF IN THE RIVER opened on March 21 through May 2, playing Thursday–Saturday and Monday at 7PM, Saturday at 1PM, and Sunday at 3PM during previews. After opening, Saturday matinees only play on select Saturdays. Tickets start at $20 with the lowest priced tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. The production includes nudity, violence, graphic language, and sexual situations. Opening night is slated for March 21.
The Flea Theater is located at 41 White Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks south of Canal, close to the A/C/E, N/R/Q, 6, J/M/Z and 1 subway lines. Purchase tickets by calling 212-352-3101 or online at www.theflea.org
The Flea’s production features The Bats: William Apps, Maki Borden (Take Care), Alexandra Curran (Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom), Karen Eilbacher (a cautionary tale), Jack Ellis, Kristin Friedlander (The Cutthroat Series), Jack Horton Gilbert (The Mysteries), John Paul Harkins (Sarah Flood in Salem Mass), Olivia Jampol (Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom), Artem Kreimer (The Shakes), Derek Christopher Murphy (Take Care), Xanthe Paige, Mike Swift, Kate Thulin (The Mysteries), and Casey Wortmann. The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (scenic design), Masha Tsimring (lighting design), Michael Hili & Hallie Elizabeth Newton (costume design), Brendan Connelly (sound design), Zach Serafin (props design), J. David Brimmer (fight choreography), Sarah East Johnson (aerial consultant), Anne Cecelia Haney (assistant director) Morgan Leigh Beach (stage manager), and Annie Jenkins (assistant stage manager).