Hyde Park’s ‘The Wolves’ is a warm and witty wonder

For many of us, our teenage years are frightening, hormone-filled affairs, full of desperation and insecurity. This time of life is a common subject for media, but it’s surprising how much of this media fails to capture the actual teenage experience. So much of it is imbued with sunny, nostalgic optimism, saccharine sentimentality, or sexy misadventure, that it fails to capture the dirt and awkwardness of it all. It’s always a joy, therefore, to find a creator who truly captures the tense, sweaty high-wire act that is adolescence. Sarah DeLappe proves to be one such writer with her play “The Wolves”, playing at Hyde Park theatre under the skilled hands of Ken Webster and assistant director Rosalind Faires. The play follows the girls of the titular soccer team, and follows them over the course of a series of important games. Along the way, through a series of conversation with topics as broad as the Khmer Rouge and ovulation, we learn more about these girls, their relationships to each other, and every painful teenage incident they experience along the way.

The conversations throughout “The Wolves” are comfortable, easy affairs, taking us back the conversations of our own youths, dancing from the major politics of the day, to Lord of the Rings, to bodily functions, and it rarely ever feels staged or stilted. Much of this smoothness is thanks to DeLappe’s intuitive writing, but credit must be given to this cast. With nine different young women on stage constantly, there’s real danger of the play’s voice becoming muddled, but each actress does her part to make their character unique. Whether it’s through speaking patterns, vocal inflection, or physicality, they each take on personalities of their own, helping to form the group into a realistic unit.

As the play goes on, it’s easy to think that these conversations are frivolous or meaningless, but when the third act hits, all of these small moments take on monumental importance. DeLappe’s trick here is nothing short of awe-inspiring, as, through one simple event, she changes everything we have seen before, turning simple conversations into emotional time bombs. Webster and Faires do their part, keeping the action simple, allowing these casual conversations, and the talented women who have them, to take center stage, in the process, allowing us to empathize with these young women, making their trials near play’s end hit all the harder.

Though some of the best performances are those that are given time to grow and change over the course of play, there are those rare cases where an actor comes out and, in just a few moments, takes the audience on a poignant journey. Such is the performance given by Rebecca Robinson, though to speak too much of specifics is to give away the power of “The Wolves”. Suffice it to say, Robinson presents one of the play’s most powerfully affecting moments, plucking deep to the nerve, leaving us shaking, and in the process changing the course of the play.

With “The Wolves”, Hyde Park Theatre has created their most accessible production in years, while never losing the edge for which Hyde Park is known. Still present are the moments of emotional truth and examination of the dark side of humanity, but its couched in a sense of hopefulness that’s refreshing in comparison to much of contemporary theatre. “The Wolves” is a play that appeals to people of most ages, and though there is some language and talk of women’s issues, there’s plenty that everyone from 16 to 70 can glean from this hilarious, intelligent work.

“The Wolves” runs roughly 90 minutes, and is running through October 21 at Hyde Park Theatre. For more information, to purchase tickets, visit hydeparktheatre.org

Image courtesy of Hyde Park Theatre.

‘Storm Still’ is a dynamic look at grief through the lens of a Shakespeare classic

Grief has become a popular theme in media. We’ve all seen the story of a family getting together after the death of one of its members, and every plot point along the way has quickly become cliché. Therefore, its with some trepidation that I came into “Storm Still”, the latest production from the Vortex Rep, the story of three sisters coming together after the death of their father, though the fact that these sisters were named Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia was undeniably intriguing. The play quickly put any fears to rest, however, as the play presents us with a naturalistic, raw look at life post-trauma, with all the familiar wound-picking, dib-calling, and remembrance of things past that so many of us know so well. That the play also contains within it a shortened version of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is only icing on the cake, even as the events of the play seem to coincide with the sisters’ own lives with a unique clarity.

“Storm Still” takes complex emotions and, with the help of one of the bard’s most famous tales, helps to clarify them and work through them. Watching the play, we feel we’ve been through own catharsis in the process. The process of mourning someone who was cruel to us is an absurdly difficult exercise, as anger, sadness, regret, and spite all dance in tandem, and its a credit to all of the actors in the piece that they’re able to take on this emotional minefield in a true and earnest way. Writer Gabrielle Reisman and director Rudy Ramirez also deserve accolades for sculpting such a fervent portrayal of grief, and shifting it all through the lens of King Lear.

There’s a smooth naturalism to “Storm Still” that’s refreshing to see, especially in something so tightly linked to a Shakespeare adaptation, and much of this freshness stems from the trio of performances at its core. In particular, Andreá Smith gives a very grounded and believable performance as the eldest sister Goneril, portraying a woman who has gone through years of abuse and struggle, and who wears those years on her sleeve. There’s an obvious love between her and her sisters, but it welded tightly within a shell of spite and sorrow, towards a sister who ran off at the first sign of danger, who never went through the pain she had to experience. Jennifer Coy Jennings’ middle sister Regan has been touched by the past traumas, in her own unique way, shutting off the outside world and becoming hardened. The way Jennings plays the cool but closed off Regan is in turns humorous and crushing, as she seems more stable than her sisters, but at the same time tougher, and rougher. The interactions between the three sisters are electric, especially in the play’s later stages, as the differences between the three begin to take form and create an atmosphere that feels all too relatable.

In recent months, I have noticed that some of the most talented actors in town are those who study in clowning and mime, and Amelia Turner shows us the exact reason why here. This training, as well as her own raw talent, has brought out all the expressiveness and physicality that truly makes a performance such as that of the youngest daughter Cordelia explode, especially here, as performers are constantly taking on other guises. With a certain way she sets her eyes, or turns her mouth, or a method in which she stoops or holds a prop, she becomes another person, who we could see even without the colorful costumes, thoughtfully chosen by Indigo Rael. The performance is more than just expressive motion, however, as Turner seems deeply in touch with her feelings, creating some of the most powerful moments in the play.

A sudden loss is, by its very nature, a chaotic event. Like a tsunami crashing upon land, it spreads and destroys, its digs up things long thought buried. “Storm Still” is very adept at showcasing this, as we see a family hanging tightly to loose strands tempting to fall apart at any moment. By throwing this thrown the prism of King Lear, it also changes in some small way the way we see the bard’s original tale, helping to show us different sides to Goneril and Regan, and in some way empathize with them. It’s a remarkable achievement, and a powerful night of theatre. Don’t miss it.

“Storm Still” is playing through September 24th at The Vortex’s outdoor stage. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit Vortex Rep’s site at vortexrep.org.

Photo courtesy of Errich Petersen