Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
May 1, 2015
It’s all about identity. Who are we, and how are we shaped – and shaken up – by circumstance?
The title character of Rajiv Joseph’s “Mr. Wolf” possesses all the ominous danger of the predator he’s named for. At first, he seems an avuncular astronomy professor. But his star pupil, Theresa, whom he’s grooming to be a brilliant scholar – and a prophet – was abducted by Mr. Wolf 12 years ago. Now 15, she’s never encountered people or shoes or chocolate. She’s about to be exposed to all this and much more. Another wolf is at the door: the FBI. Mr. Wolf makes a lethal exit and sends Theresa out into the world.
There, she meets her father, who’s devoted his life to finding her; her mother, who gave up on her years ago; and her stepmom, who met her new mate in a support group for parents of kidnapped children.
Every character will suffer an existential crisis or two. Identity, faith, hope and survival are seminal in Joseph’s work, including his magnificent, Pulitzer Prize finalist, “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.”
In this world premiere, Joseph is asking many questions, across many domains. Perhaps too many. The play has some excellent interactions, some searing, stomach-churning moments. But the two mothers are underwritten, and there are a number of detours that don’t forward the arc of the story. Further tightening of focus will serve the provocative drama well. Joseph knows how to push socio-political and emotional buttons, while upending our comfortable attitudes.
At South Coast Rep, the production is wonderfully designed. Under the direction of David Emmes , the men are outstanding – Jon Tenney as the Father, and John de Lancie as Mr. Wolf and several other characters. College senior Emily James is spectacular as Theresa, ingenuously exhibiting both brainwashed wisdom and infinite curiosity.
There’s serious potential in a play that poses this many unfathomable questions.
“Mr. Wolf ” runs through May 3, at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.
©2015 PAT LAUNER