Don’t try to find a moral in this story, warns the narrator of “Wolves,” Steve Yockey’s dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, now performing at the Redtwist Theatre. If you come across a lesson, you may be closer to that story than you think—and it’s not a pretty story.
This ominous prologue marks the beginning of a terrifying tale about a young man whose increasing paranoia eventually turns violent and reveals the predator he fears. Redtwist’s art director Dusty Brown’s production of this psychological horror story is gory, claustrophobic, and at times surprisingly funny.
Joshua Servantez plays Ben, a young gay man who moves from a small town where he doesn’t fit in to a big city where he still doesn’t fit in. Alone and isolated, she forms an unhealthy dependent relationship with Jack (Gardy Gilbert); When we meet them, the two are no longer lovers but still roommates.
The narrator (Monique Marshaun) is not just a storyteller, she weaves in and out of the plot, whispering into the characters’ ears and sowing seeds of doubt. When not interacting with them, he occasionally pauses the action to make sarcastic comments.
In the opening scene, Ben tries to persuade Jack to spend an evening at a local bar instead of going there alone. Although the reason is never fully explained, Ben developed a debilitating fear of the city at night, viewing it as a vast forest filled with dangerous animals such as wolves. He believes they will be safe after dark just by staying in their small apartment. After a bitter argument that turns into an accidental blow, Jack eventually leaves, wearing a hooded red velvet top (costumes by Madeline Felauer).
When Jack brings home a socially anxious but seemingly sweet man whom he insists on calling Wolf (Michael Dias), Ben’s precarious mental state unravels even further in the face of the perceived threat from this stranger. She rocks back and forth on her bed, clutching the duvet and listening to music while the couple gets to know each other on the couch in the next room.
All of this takes place on a sparse set designed by Rose Johnson, dominated by red and black. The only furniture we see in Ben and Jack’s two-bedroom apartment is a bed, sofa, and drinks cart; Although Ben sees it as a haven, there are few comforts in his home. The narrator’s corner of the stage is decorated with a tree made of red thread, evoking the play’s fairy-tale inspiration, and on another wall hangs a large ax suspended from the same thread – an obvious Chekhov’s weapon if ever there was one.
When the gun goes off, Ben becomes a murderer, so to speak, convinced that he is still the prey, fighting the voice in his head and wringing his hands with Lady Macbeth-like guilt. The horror elements finally ramp up, with red light and strobe effects designed by Piper Kirchhofer and unsettling performances from Servantez, Gilbert, and Dias. Avoid sitting in the forward splash zone; You may leave with a souvenir spot of stage blood.
“Wolves” was the second spooky show I watched after Kokandy Productions’ Chicago premiere last weekend. “American Psycho: The Musical.” Both have heroes who cannot cope with modern city life, one with murder fantasies, the other with paranoid delusions. As the narrator of “Wolves” says, some people don’t know how to behave when they encounter the world, and some don’t realize this about themselves until it’s too late.
Get the latest news and reviews from America’s most popular theater city delivered weekly to your inbox.
Neither Patrick Bateman nor Ben are particularly likable, but I find the latter more pathetic. His is a cautionary tale about the overwhelming, paralyzing, and violent power of fear. Aren’t history and current headlines full of such stories, both on an individual and collective level? Of course, the narrator warns against looking for a moral lesson – and if you see yourself in Me, by all means seek help – but it’s the mark of a good horror story to hold a mirror up to the darkest parts of ourselves, or our darkest aspects. At least it makes us wonder what could drive us to such extremes. When I walked out of Redtwist’s black box theater, winking under the afternoon sun on a hot October day, I knew I’d be thinking about it for a while.
Emily McClanathan is a freelance critic.
Review: “Wolves” (3 stars)
When: Until November 5
Where: Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Working time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Tickets: $30 RedtwistTheatre.org