4/3/2022 THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE BLOCK Theatrical Outfit
It’s late at night. A young Latinx man, Alejandro (“Call me Abe”) stumbles onto the stage. He has obviously been beaten. He tells us his story.
He tells his friend (and employer), Nunley, his story. He tells his sister, Miranda, his story.
And he tells a flint-edged reporter, Frida, his story. And she wants to tell the world.
Is everything as it seems? Can Abe be trusted? Can Frida?
Such is the premise of Ike Holter’s riveting “neo-noir” drama, The Wolf at the End of the Block, a play that takes as its milieu the mistrust between Chicago’s “people of color” residents and Chicago’s white Police force.
This play is part of a seven-play cycle, the Rightlynd Saga, which “tells interlocking stories that all take place in a fictional Chicago neighborhood.” Mr. Holter writes gritty stories with sharp dialogue and ambiguously motivated characters. His cycle, of which this is the first I’ve seen, aspires to do for Chicago what August Wilson’s “Century Plays” did for Pittsburgh. We will reserve judgment on that comparison until we’ve had a chance to see (or at least read) them all.
But based on this production of this play, I would hazard a guess that Mr. Holter’s achievement, especially if taken in context with the entire cycle, sets a standard that is ambitious and, ultimately, successful.
These characters are fully fleshed out, unspoken layers hinted at, spoken stories unreliable (ish) and filtered through agendas.
Was the attack on Abe a random hate crime? Or did he throw the first punch? And did the recipient deserve that punch? And was alcohol part of the story?
Has Frida become jaded because of the public (and justice system) insistence that any accuser of violence by the police be themselves “above reproach?” Is an “above reproach” victim of a hate crime even possible? Is anyone anywhere anytime actually “above reproach?” And how does a muckraking columnist have a camera crew at her beck and call?
Will Miranda torpedo Abe’s story if she blurts out what she thinks is “the truth?” Is “the truth” even true?
Is the friendly white cop who joins Nunley for a late-night drink the “bad guy” in Abe’s story? Is he a witness? Or is he just a well-meaning guy trying to see “the other side?”
What is missing in all these stories is trust. Trust by the public towards those supposedly protecting them. Trust for the “storytellers,” the witnesses and the reporters, who have their own agendas. Our trust for these characters who just may be the most unreliable of narrators .
This production is rooted on a conceptual set (by Seamus Bourne) that LOOKS like a back alley in a deteriorating neighborhood. But we’re told it’s a sandwich shop, a park, a bar. These locations are defined by lighting (by Toni Sterling) and a few suggestive props and dressings, but this is overwhelmingly ABOUT this urban neighborhood.
And the actors all bring a basketful of skill (and ambiguity) to their performances. As Abe, Matt Mercurio brings a slateful of charisma, clarity, and terror, his face hiding what really happened even as his bruises shout out proof of the tale. Erika Miranda is all bratty sister smiles and gibes but shows a bottomless well of love and support for Abe. Maria Rodrigues-Sager is sensational as Frida, bringing a hard-edged practicality and common sense that brooks no barrier, no waffling, no weakness, no impropriety; Abe MUST be “Above Reproach” or the story will wither and fade like a thousand other hate crimes in the city. Anthony S. Goolsby brings a dapper elegance to Nunley, a “Code Dressing” nattiness that masks his own fear and insecurity. And Mark Kincaid is pure menace as the policeman, menace that hides what actually may be a sincere effort to reach out or to “set the record straight.”
The Wolf at the End of the Block is a tense and compelling play, a stark examination of the mistrust that divides a community, and an acknowledgement that there are no easy solutions. It is filled with fast-paced crackling dialogue that reveals AND hides characters and intentions and agendas, and it is an experience that will not soon be forgotten.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #toWOLF)
Ike Holter’s Rightlynd Saga:
Setting: Winter 2011 – Summer 2014
Premiere: Victory Gardens Theater (2018)
Setting: Summer 2014 – Summer 2015
Premiere: Jackalope Theatre (2014)
Setting: Summer 2016
Premiere: A Red Orchid Theatre (2016)
Setting: Summer 2016
Premiere: Jackalope Theatre (2016)
The Wolf at the End of the Block
Setting: February 2017
Premiere: Teatro Vista (2017)
Setting: January – April 2018
Premiere: Steep Theatre (2019)
Setting: Fall 2019
Premiere: Goodman Theatre, Spring 2019