A passionate and intricate story of family, love, loss, queerness and otherness
By Sebastian Purcell
Wolf (Yuchen Wang) is a 6 year old Korean boy put up for adoption on the internet after his white-American-adoptive father Peter (Charlie Cousins) and his wife have a new baby. Wolf is adopted by Robin (Jing-Xuan Chan), with her initially supportive brother Ryan (Kevin Hofbauer) present. Ash (Brooke Lee), Robin’s wife, laments that the adoption wasn’t a joint decision as she is about to go pro in her boxing career. Peter comes to regret giving Wolf up, holding traditional family values and views of fatherhood and homophobia. Peter fights for Wolf’s return through the messy court system that both parties attempted were trying to avoid.
Director Isabella Vadiveloo has created a vivid, emotional work that is both complex and at the core very simple–the love of a parent for a child. There are strong themes of the fear of otherness–Asian, queerness and loneliness–that shines through in real way on stage. Sam Diamond’s set and costume design is interesting–all blue for the set (kitchen, floor, walls, balloons, couch) with the white lines of a boxing ring framing the set; it’s striking in one sense but also cleverly fades into the background allowing the actors to pull focus at all times.
Every single performer puts in standout performances. There is a physicality to Lee’s boxing performance of Ash, enhanced by the creative team’s lighting and staging, which is terrific. The emotional connection and longing for a family that Chan and Cousins each display is palpable and Hofbauer’s masculinity comes to the forefront as the play progresses as he subtly yet commandingly switches from supporter to agitator. However, Wang’s control as quasi narrator, often puppeteer of 6 year old Wolf, offers at times some of the few moments of levity. Using inner monologue and breaking the fourth wall, he breaks through the heavy material and captivates the audience from start to finish. Wang’s commitment and execution of a howling wolf is also very impressive.
The entire production is tight. It’s almost two-hour run time is forgotten; I was drawn into the detail of the relationships on stage, and cleverly at times. through a great lighting technique, off stage too. The use of a puppet connected at times to Wang, and at other times connected to other characters, is a really interesting choice; it allows the audience to feel the size and vulnerability of the puppet child and the commanding and insightful performance of Wang too.
As the play reminds us, a wolf will adapt to its surroundings, so will those cast as others in society. This is a play that would easily fit right at home on some of Melbourne’s biggest stages.
Wolf Play is showing at Red Stitch Actors Theatre until 2 April with tickets available via Wolf Play 2023 — Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre.