Little Red Riding Hood’s Big Bad Wolf was a mere puppy dog compared to the wolves that roam wild in the big city where ex-lovers/still-roommates Ben and Jack make their home in Steve Yockey’s Wolves, now getting its Orange County Premiere at Theatre Out, and though assorted Grimms’ Contes De Fées may be its inspiration, Yockey’s dark, sexy fairy tale for adults is about the farthest thing from grim.
Since every fairy tale must have its storyteller, Yockey has provided us with Wolves’ very own, a smart, sassy unnamed Narrator (Lori Kelley) who interrupts the action whenever the urge strikes to quip or wink or smile knowingly, or to comment on the action like honey spiked with acid.
It’s The Narrator who introduces us to our troubled hero Ben (Jeffrey Fargo), a small-town boy who’s fled narrow minds and prejudices for an unnamed big city, one where he soon met—and briefly dated—the more urban, more together Jack (Dylan Wallace), no longer his boyfriend but still sharing their fifth-floor walk-up as Ben continues to pine for an ex who’s got other pursuits (of the male variety) on his mind.
Whatever Ben’s mental state when the small-town newbie and the big-city native were in the honeymoon stage of their short-lived relationship, it would seem to have reached the edge of paranoia since their breakup, so fearful is Ben of anything outside his apartment’s protective walls and content to stay hermetically sealed inside, just so long as Jack is in there with him, even if platonically so.
Not surprisingly, this arrangement suits Ben considerably better than it does Jack, who finds himself stuck with a roommate so needy and possessive that it’s no wonder the boyfriend-turned-roomie longs for a night on the town.
Try as he might to convince Jack that there are actual wolves prowling just outside their door, Ben’s pleas prove unsuccessful and before we know it, Jack has brought home a handsome, scruffy stud he’s nicknamed “Wolf” (Kevin Carranza), despite the fact that a bit of pre-hanky-panky conversation reveals the sort-of lupine gent to be more nice-guy loner than wolf—that is until sheep’s clothing (i.e. Wolf’s lumberjack shirt … and Jack’s t-shirt as well) comes off.
Meanwhile in the adjacent bedroom, Ben’s efforts at trying to shut out the sounds of foreplay prove ineffectual to say the least.
Only the least observant audience member will have failed to notice the ax propped up conspicuously downstage, part of David C. Carnevale and Joey Baital’s snazzy scenic design, one which both divides Ben and Jack’s apartment into rooms and separates it from the outside world with the white masking tape specified in Yockey’s script for reasons that will eventually become crystal clear.
Carnevale and Baital’s design, one of their best ever, features a multi-ingredient sound mix which heighten the chill factor at every twist and turn, dramatic lighting which, not surprisingly, makes apt and ample use of the color red, and character-appropriate outfits including a particularly clever little red riding hoody for Jack to don before heading out on his manhunt.
Still, even a sensational design package and crackerjack writing could well fizzle without a director as imaginative as Theater Out’s Tito Ortiz, doing his finest work since his auspicious Corpus Christi directorial debut back in 2011.
Wolves’ striking opening and closing sequences at Theatre Out are entirely Ortiz’s inspiration, between which the director has additional surprises of his own in store.
No one plays a loose cannon with more inner (and outer) frenzy than Fargo, whose Ben combines fear and vulnerability with a darkness and intensity that keeps your eyes riveted on our troubled hero throughout.
As for Kelly, the Theatre Out gem is a deliciously, dangerously seductive treat, quipping, flashing a wicked smile, freeze-framing the action whenever it takes her fancy, and whispering into ears secrets that we can only imagine.
Carranza’s sexy Wolf may not be as physically menacing as Jack describes him, but his work here is mostly effective nonetheless, especially as the only male character whom Yockey’s script allows interaction with our narrator.
Wallace gives Ben an appropriate intensity, but his performance could benefit from the “in the moment” spontaneity that marks Fargo’s work throughout.
Wolves is produced by Carnevale and Baital. Alexis Stansfield is stage manager. Jeff Budner is fight choreographer.
With a running time hardly longer than this week’s American Horror Story, Wolves has audiences exciting Theatre Out at about 9:05, so make evening plans accordingly.
Short and not-so-sweet, Wolves escorts its audience into a darkly comedic world of thrills, chills, and shirtless man-on-man foreplay. I for one had a bloody good time.
Theatre Out, 402 W. 4th Street, Santa Ana.
April 4, 2015
Photos: David C. Carnevale