“The Universal Wolf” Review - Intruiging and Sexy

The play “The Universal Wolf” opened Thursday, August 20, 2015, and will run through Saturday, September  26, at The Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland St., Chicago. The Trap  Door is a tiny and cozy little venue with 60 seats in 900 square feet located down a passageway on a street filled with trendy restaurants and clubs in Bucktown. The company incorporated in 1994 and is dedicated to bringing to life challenging if little known works in new and exciting ways. Artistic Director Beata Pilch has expressed a commitment to “illustrate the absurdities of living in today’s society”. The Universal Wolf, written by Joan Schenkar and Directed by Emily Lotspeich is not exactly a modern fairy tale, but it does examine many of the nuances of “Little Red Riding Hood” in a sharp, cunning and shrewdly analytical way. It’s also a sexy and violence-filled production marked by music, knowing leers , bloodlust and French.


"The Readers with the Axe" featuring Skye Fort (top) and Mary Kate Arnold (bottom)

The cast included Mary-Kate Arnold and Skye Fort as Readers (and musicians),Leslie Ruettinger as Little Red Riding Hood, Diane M. Honeyman as Grandmother, and Antonio Brunetti as Monseuir Woolf. The narrators-musicians, who also sang and played bass guitar, piano and clarinet, were eerily vampy, knowing, and sarcastic-sullen, and the whole cast, sans Grandma, was sexy as hell, particularly the scantily-clad Red Riding Hood. Indeed, for more than ten minutes before the play actually begins, the three younger women are lolling about on the stage itself, and on Grandma’s bed, smirking, rolling their eyes and limbs provocatively, and cat-calling at the audience; later, RRH and the Wolf speak directly (and often derisively ) to specific audience members: this reviewer was told “I hate you!” by the prococious ingenue!


"Wolf dropping Little Red" featuring Antonio Brunetti and Leslie Ruettiger

The premise of the play , mainly declaimed in forceful French-accented literary-allusioned explanations by Brunetti, who was terrific as the sharp-eared, snaggle-toothed saliva-spraying Wolf, is that the familiar German Grimm’s tale is NOT the original story; it was written in France in an earlier and infinitely darker version. This is interesting in itself, as much has been written (see Bettelheim and others) about the shocking dark impact of the Brothers Grimm upon the psyches of generations of children. It is impressed upon us repeatedly and slaveringly that the wolf EATS children, particularly females between the ages of 11 and 15. “Luscious chee-iild “ is the moniker most frequently used by Wolf when speaking to the simpering bustier,garter and black-stockinged (with holes-both her big toes protruded) RRH, who flicks her cape over herself often with an obvious desire to expose her charms.


"The Wolf" (black and white) featuring Antonio Brunetti

The Wolf is adamant in averring, as he guzzles wine, struts shirtless and sockless, clad only in striped pants and open vest, that the Woodsman, who we believe will save RRH doesn’t belong in and indeed ruins the tale. No, the Woodsman is out; children in these woods adjacent to the Bois Des Boulogne, we are told, (this RRH family apparently has become affluent due to Grandmothers extraordinary skill in butchery)don’t get saved.


"Little Red" featuring Leslie Ruettiger

RRH undulates and coos as she searches lustily through the woods for the Woodsman, stalked by the Wolf while the Readers look knowingly on, and she embraces the Wolf, who pretends to be that gentleman, but she never does succumb to the Wolf’s dark and lusty charms; she evades him and takes another route to get to her grandma. And what a relative!Grandma is a homely blade-wielding drunk who paws and leches over her own granddaughter, while regretting the girls stupidity. She goads RRH into hacking the Wolf to pieces after locking them in a wardrobe together; later, she has RRH collect his blood, which they sip. Ultimately,she seduces the girl into cuddling up with her (again!) and strangles her with glee when RRH falls asleep.


What is the moral of this twisty tale? There isn’t one, or is it this: violence, sadism and perversion lurk behind the surface of all lives; all children and animals have sexual impulses; not all grandmothers are sweet. Are there any gentlemen around these days who don’t eat the nubile? Are any of our boulevards safe? Or is it our own belief in innocence without prurience that is dead? I left the play well and truly entertained, and with quite a bit to think about, too. This was a very well-done and obviously well-thought out piece.


"Grandmother and Little Red" featuring Diane Honeyman and Leslie Ruettiger (l-r)

Tickets for The Universal Wolf cost $20 on Thursdays and Fridays, $25 on Saturdays, and can be had at trapdoor website. And don’t forget to leave some $$ in the unforgiveably small box to the right of the door on your way out: these actors work for love, not money.

All images were photographed by: Michal Janicki

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