To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Brandeis Department of Theater Arts Presents ‘Wolf Play’ by Hansol Jung

“Wolf Play” by Hansol Jung explores the meanings and boundaries of family in contemporary society, delving into the complex dynamics of transnational adoption with as much raw emotion and introspective nuance. Directed by Sarah Shin, the Brandeis Department of Theater Arts presented this play at the Laurie Theater, Spingold Theater Center from March 8-10, 2024. This production is part of a collaboration with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc., and was scheduled for evening shows at 8 p.m. on Friday (3/7) and Saturday (3/8), with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday (3/9) and Sunday (3/10). An engaging conversation with playwright Hansol Jung and director Sarah Shin, moderated by Kelly Mee Rich, Associate Professor of English at Harvard University, was followed by the Saturday matinee, offering personal and deeper insights into the play’s themes and creation. 

“Wolf Play” is about a 6-year-old Korean boy, Wolf, who is not just a character but a puppet, facing multiple challenges in his young life. Crafted from wood, cardboard and papier-mache, this simple yet expressive puppet embodies the boy’s journey through abandonment and search for belonging. His journey begins with an abrupt transfer form his adopted American father, Peter (played by Sam Taxman ’27), to a new home with an American boxer and her wife, a transition facilitated by nothing more than a signature on a piece of paper through a Yahoo message. This act of “un-adoption” sets off a series of events that force each character to confront their biases, fears and ultimately their capacities for love and acceptance. 

The play is not just a narrative about the boy’s search for a place to call home; it’s a broader commentary on the fluidity and complexity of family structures. The new family that the boy finds himself in, with Robin (played by Rachel Shpuntoff ’26) and Ash (portrayed by Liza Heck ’25), along with the presence of Ryan (Matthew Magee ’25), Robin’s brother and Ash’s coach, showcases the fluidity of kinship bonds that transcend traditional structures. The evolving relationship between the boy and Ash, in particular, highlights the play’s central theme: that connections forged by love and understanding defy societal norms and expectations. 

Through the motif of a wolf, a puppet and the diverse cast of characters, Jung explores themes of survival, identity and the primal need for connection. The playwright’s choice to incorporate elements such as a child puppet alongside actors adds a unique layer to the storytelling but also serves as an important metaphor for the play’s exploration of adult responsibilities and the innocence of childhood. Wolf, played by Phoenix Yuan ’26, highlights the innate resilience and adaptability required in the face of such profound loss. Yuan’s performance bridged the gap between puppet and human emotion as it served to portray the complexity of the character’s experience. The Brandeis production brings the audience into an intimate engagement with the story, seating them around the stage for a closer connection with the characters’ struggles and triumphs. 

Since its premiere in 2019 as part of the National New Play Network’s rolling world premiere initiative, “Wolf Play” has been celebrated for its lyrical script and the raw, emotional performances of its cast. Its unique storytelling, combined with a mix of real-life drama and imaginative elements like a puppet wolf, has resonated with audiences and critics alike, receiving positive reviews from prestigious publications. Critics and audiences have lauded “Wolf Play” for its innovative approach and powerful message, describing it as “a gorgeous, devastating play” by New York Sun and a “mischievous” narrative that masterfully balances the grim realities of life with fantastical humor by Vulture. The New York Times praised its “antic disposition and a goofy heart,” highlighting the play’s effectiveness in portraying traumatic situations through a lens of lightness and humor. 

Director Sarah Shin’s vision for the play extends beyond the narrative itself, inviting the audience to see the world through the eyes of a child. The set was designed to mirror the chaotic yet inherently logical world of a child, complete with movable doors and mismatched chairs; The stage becomes a canvas for the character’s journeys. In her director’s note, Shin reflects on the border context of the play’s theme, considering the collective journey toward “normalcy” in a post-COVID, AI-driven era and the looming uncertainties of global and personal challenges. 

“Wolf Play” is more than just a story about adoption or the trials of a young boy but a mirror reflecting the complexities of human relationships and the infinite definitions of family. Hansol Jung’s creation that was brought to life under Sarah Shin’s direction, offered a rare opportunity for audiences to confront their preconceptions and discover the endless potential for empathy and connection in a world that often seems divided.

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