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|A CurtainUp Review
Which wolf is which: an after school special
By Jenny Sandman
Robert O'Hara's had a busy year in New York. He's written and directed two new plays, American Ma(u)l and Booty Candy, and now he's directed a new play by Sam Marks.
Billed as "an after after school special," Which wolf is which? at HERE is less free-form than previous O'Hara offerings, but his influence is still crystal-clear.
Which Wolf is set in Brooklyn. Terrence is a young dumb street kid about to fail math and if so would flunk out of high school and sent back to a mysterious "work program" which inspires fear and dread in all the kids. The fact that Terrence is having an affair with the math teacher, Ms. Stern, thus far has not affected his grade. But ugly rumors are spreading, and most of the school knows about the illicit affair--including the shop teacher, Hank Rubin (a Gulf War vet), the assistant principal, and fellow students Ben and Alicia who are dating, but, much to Ben's dismay, not yet sleeping together.
When the city makes budget cuts, and schools in Queens are forced to close, the boroughs erupt in riots. Armed soldiers are sent to escort the students home and patrol the streets. Terrence takes advantage of the chaos to do a little looting; Ben and Alicia have a date which takes them to the park because Ben's sister won't leave the apartment. They start making out in the midst of the roving gangs, only to be discovered by Mr. Rubin. And that's when all hell breaks loose.
The play explores the eroticism and violence between the students and their teachers. The tension vis-à-vis the escalating danger outside. The students' burgeoning sexuality is blatantly obvious.
Sam Marks is a powerful writer with an ear for street vernacular ("Are you like being serious now or are you like being weird?") and subtle humor. The funniest scene occurs when Ben and his sister get high and talk about tuna. The characters are carefully and realistically crafted, and the story builds nicely right up to the very end. It's at that point that the tight structure unravels. Instead of ending, the play just stops. Given the plot intricacies that led up to that point this is disappointing. This timely and image rich work deserves a better ending.
O'Hara has assembled an energetic cast. The actors, many of whom have been recycled from American Ma(u)l and Booty Candy, are somewhat lacking in chemistry but nevertheless work well together. Tiffany O'Hara's Ms. Stern is a little wooden for a sexed-up math teacher, but Ephraim Benton is just right her paramour, Terrence, as is Joey Rich as the inept assistant principal. Steven Boyer's Ben is the perfect bumbling, insecure teenager. He's no match for Eve Berkson's Alicia, a smart girl who's determined to get into college and get out of Brooklyn. Though a bit stiff at first she lets go in her scene with Benton in which we see why Alicia is trying so hard to separate herself from her surroundings. As Tara, a paranoid misfit, Molly Pearson' provides a lot of the comic relief and Chad Beckim is suitably creepy, especially when he starts having Gulf War flashbacks. Sometimes it's hard to tell which are the adults and which are the teenagers, and that's exactly as it should be.
O'Hara's directorial instincts are surprising in their perspicacity. Sam Marks has the makings of a solid playwright. Taken together, on a bare stage with the simplest of set pieces (folding tables; a bean-bag chair) and lighting, he and Mr. O'Hara they've created a startling new play.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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