As Stephen Sondheim observed, “There are giants in the sky.” Vintage children's stories of the dark-hued Grimm variety are as much cautionary as they are folkloric. If little boys and girls aren't careful, they could well become dinner.
In his world premiere of “Wolves” at the Celebration, playwright Steve Yockey fractures a familiar yarn – the Red Riding Hood story – into a prismatic and sometimes lacerating reflection of the monsters that lurk in the streets of the big city – and also within.
The endangered “children” in this case are Ben (Nathan Mohebbi), an agoraphobic young gay man with a history of mental illness, and Jack (Matt Magnusson), his impressionable former lover turned platonic roommate, who is eager to tune out Ben's constant prognostications of danger and doom.
When Jack wanders down to the local bar and brings home the handsome Wolf (Andrew Crabtree) for a fling, Ben's cracked psyche shatters, releasing the demons within – not to mention a bucket o' gore.
Egging Ben on in his paranoia is the Narrator (Katherine Skelton), the intrusive voice in Ben's head, as well as an omniscient observer who frequently interrupts the action to deliver her own mordant take on the increasingly ghastly proceedings. She gives fair warning early on in the action that “This isn't a pretty story.”
But it is a surprisingly funny story. Director Michael Matthews and his deft cast – particularly the radiant Skelton, a real find – feast on Yockey's gore-fest with lupine zeal.
True, Yockey's reiterative themes favor the sensational over the substantive, but that certain slightness is ameliorated by this production’s high style. As “Wolves” wittily emphasizes, we all live in straw houses – but the real threat may lurk just down the hall.
“Wolves,” Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 5. $30. (323) 957-1884. www.celebrationtheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.