Theater is non-stop in this town and two world premieres are now onstage in Boston!
WOLF PLAY: This world premiere produced by Company One and written by Hansol Jung took me completely by surprise because it was about something I had never heard of: the online “adoption dissolution” of previously adopted children, bypassing regulated legal adoption proceedings. All that’s required is a notarized letter involving power of attorney and a child can be “un-adopted” by adoptive parents who no longer want the child, and then “re-homed” with another adoptive family.
I was at first horrified, and ultimately very moved. The play plunges us into the plight of 8 year-old Peter in “Wolf Play” who, like a lone wolf, has been abandoned by his pack– twice, and again must figure out how to survive in a new pack. “Peter,” whose real name is Jeenu and is from South Korea, is played by a life-sized puppet(!) and is operated by an expressive young actor Minh-Anh Day; the two are instantly one. Far from distracting, the puppet facilitated an immediate empathic connection. In bypassing the limitations of a real child actor given the disturbing demands of the role, the puppet enabled me to make a creative leap and project myself more fully into Jeenu’s experience, putting me in his shoes– and there were many.
“Jeenu” had been adopted by a white family in Arizona who are now giving him up for adoption after having a new baby. That family’s father, also called “Peter” is deftly played by Greg Maraio who drops the boy off in San Francisco with his “new” adoptive parents, a multiracial lesbian couple: delicate, nurturing Robin played by Ines De La Cruz, and tough, no-nonsense Ash played by Tonasia Jones. Ash, an amateur boxer on the verge of turning pro, is fighting the idea of being a mother, let alone adopting a child over the internet. Robin’s macho brother Ryan played by Adrian Peguero also has reservations– about the couple’s ability to raise a son, as does Peter.
What happens next is a surefooted, dramatic concatenation of conflicting needs, desires, vulnerabilities, cultures, parenting styles, and power struggles brought to the fore by Jeenu who is caught in the middle struggling to find a home. The staging and sleek set design efficiently capture the overlapping tensions as scenes with both families sometimes occur simultaneously, intertwined onstage on the same set! Jeenu in the midst of the chaos dissociates as a wolf to get himself through, a wolf who is alternately fierce, lonely, deeply social, and supremely adaptable. These colliding circumstances, venues, & values engage all of Jeenu’s instincts and the play lets us inside his head and heart so we grasp what he’s thinking and feeling.
Director Summer L. Williams guides this exceptional cast with clarity and grace through these difficult, dynamic relationships, and the unexpected connections the wolf/child makes as he navigates his new “pack.” The play resonates at the level of metaphor, like a fable about the balance of nature, family, identity, society, and home. It’s a play our clamorous world needs now. I urge you and all the wolves you know to see WOLF PLAY, produced by Company One in collaboration with the Boston Public Library in beautiful Rabb Hall, Copley Square through February 29.
DETROIT RED–now onstage at the Emerson Paramount Center is a powerful, atmospheric, slice of a play about Malcolm X’s transformational time in Boston, specifically Roxbury, in which he arrived as a raw 16 year-old named Malcolm Little and emerged a big, fierce, history-making force for black empowerment, Malcolm X. The play begins on video in black and white when “Detroit Red” (so dubbed for his reddish hair) enters a pawn shop with a watch. What lead him to that moment in time and what he decides in the moments that follow are what defined Malcom’s history and the transfiguring events of this play.
Live action takes over as we see a young man from Michigan foaming with hostility, burned by the casual insults to his personhood. He makes his way through menial jobs, selling sandwiches on a train, morphing to a life of petty crime, drugging, drinking and eventually burglarizing the homes of rich white men who would objectify him in ways obscene and dehumanizing. We see his rage taken out on the women in his life and the trajectory his seething anger has shaped.
The play written by Will Power (!) and directed by Lee Sunday Evans counts on our familiarity with the details of Detroit Red’s odyssey and its connection to the whole of his life. I wish the play had provided more distinct connective tissue. I had to lean in and listen hard to absorb its elliptical, poetic language and action which took the form of movable tableaux behind a scrim, deep in shadow as if to suggest a man not yet fully realized and haunted by the ghost of his revered minister father who may have been murdered by white supremacists.
Eric Berryman delivers an elegant, intensely heightened performance in the title role, and compelled me to watch. I wanted to know more when I left, about Detroit Red’s time here in the cauldron of his becoming on the streets and behind the bars of this city. See the wholly original world premiere of DETROIT RED at the Emerson Paramount Center through February 16.