Chicago Theatre Review
Wolf continues Ike Holter and Teatro Vista’s remarkable winning streak
The Wolf at the End of the Block – Teatro Vista
Red Orchid’s 2016 production of “Sender” by local playwright Ike Holter was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable, thought-provoking world premieres that I saw last year. Similarly, Teatro Vista’s production last fall of Mando Alvarado’s world-premiere ‘Parachute Men’ was a triumph, and represented everything there is to love about Chicago theater. So it only makes sense that ‘The Wolf at the End of the Block,’ Teatro’s world-premiere staging of Holter’s latest play, is as urgent, passionate, and intelligent as we’ve come to expect from such talented individuals.
Directed with total focus by Teatro Executive Artistic Director Ricardo Gutiérrez (who also helmed ‘Parachute Men’), ‘Wolf’ begins with a bang: the lights rise on Alejandro (the amazing Gabriel Ruiz), a Mexican-American who lives in Chicago. His face is covered with cuts and bruises, and is dripping with blood. His clothes are a grisly mess. He is out of breath, terrified.
The play’s following 90 minutes unravels the mystery behind Alejandro’s bloodied state, but Holter is far too smart a playwright (and Teatro’s cast is far too talented) for ‘Wolf’ to be a routine whodunit.
In the show’s playbill, Holter explains that the show changed considerably during its rehearsal stages – “it’s incredibly insane right now,” Holter says, adding that he began writing the play before the presidential election – and as a result, ‘Wolf’ burns with the fierce urgency of now, touching upon everything from Chicago’s segregated neighborhoods to the anti-immigrant posturing of Donald Trump’s America. Art is an essential response to the abuses of power, and it is exciting to see how Holter, Teatro, and Chicago’s other talented theatrical artists respond to the events of the last 12 months.
And finally, I cannot say enough good things about the cast and crew behind ‘Wolf.’ Holter calls Ruiz “one of the most flexible, fast, giving, and intelligent actors around,” and his work in ‘Wolf’ demonstrates those attributes to a considerable degree. Funny and charming one moment, frustrated and irascible the next, Ruiz walks a tightrope of agony and ecstasy, and he is key to the play’s success – which, of course, is not to shortchange the outstanding work of the charming Bear Bellinger, the passionate Ayssette Muñoz, the menacing James D. Farruggio, and the charismatic Sandra Márquez. Add to that Milo Blue’s careful scenic design, Diane D. Fairchild’s subtle lighting, and Uriel Gómez’s perfect costume design, and you have another outstanding effort from one of Chicago’s finest theater companies.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through March 5 by Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago
Tickets are available by calling 773-871-3000, or by visiting TeatroVista.org