To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘Wolf Play’ is a triumph for the theater department

From March 8-10, the Brandeis Department of Theater Arts presented their play of the semester—”Wolf Play” by Hansol Jung, directed by Sarah Shin. The play follows the story of a Korean adoptee as his first adoptive family abandons him with a new family. The play explores themes of childhood, relationships, homophobia, misogyny, the trauma of adoption and yes, wolves, over the course of its two-hour run time.

The main character is “Wolf,” a six-year-old boy portrayed both by Phoenix Yuan ‘26 and a puppet. Yuan delivers a superb performance, perfectly conveying the complex internal monologue of a young boy while deftly showing off his puppetry skills (skills that Yuan learned for the show). Wolf is a character you want to root for, and as the play progresses you realize just how much the world has failed this boy.

A highlight throughout the show was Yuan’s line delivery as Wolf, from petulantly declaring “Wolves HATE yoga!” while stomping on a yoga mat, or by quietly expressing his love for his new family. Yuan also opens the show with a lengthy monologue that he delivers with ease, breaking the fourth wall that will remain down for the rest of the show. Wolf spends the play explaining how he is not a human, he is a wolf, and how he perceives the world through a wolf’s (but really, a little boy’s) eyes. Yuan makes these interjections, which run the risk of being awkward, seem natural. In Qingan Zhang’s surrealist set design, made up primarily of pastel cushions, the audience is fully immersed in Wolf’s mind and fully invested in his story.

The rest of the ensemble rises to the challenge of matching Yuan’s performance. Rachel Shpuntoff ’26 brings great complexity to Robin, Wolf’s adoptive mother who found him on a Yahoo listing. Liza Heck ’25 plays Ash, Robin’s wife, who does not approve of the adoption but finds herself bonding with the child now in her house. Ash is also a boxer preparing to go pro, and Heck gets to show off her boxing skills (again, learned for the show). Rounding out the ensemble is Matthew Magee ’25 as Ryan, Robin’s initially likeable but later detestable brother, and Sam Taxman ’27, who is perfectly hateable as Peter, Wolf’s first father who put him up as an internet listing.

What impressed me is how well the ensemble is able to craft relationships with each other. Shpuntoff and Heck do an excellent job portraying an otherwise steady relationship fraying due to both the adoption and Ash choosing to go pro. Magee carefully threads the needle of humor combined with a deeply insecure masculinity, which takes the character of Ryan from a caricature to a believable, and heartbreaking, man. Taxman may have the hardest job, having to portray a man who is fundamentally broken but still needs to eke out a shred of sympathy from the audience before truly going off the deep end. He delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance, and certainly succeeded in garnering the ire of the audience by the final scene.

“Wolf Play” is a challenging script in many ways. It is often funny, but has a serious story and message at its center. Some elements of the script are frustrating, as plotlines are picked up and dropped without much thought. Robin reuniting with her estranged mother seems to come and go in a blink. Ash, after really driving the plot forward for the first three quarters of the play, fades a bit in the final quarter. And the ending is deeply unsatisfying, but deliberately so. What makes “Wolf Play” frustrating is the very thing that makes it great, and that is that it is simply reflecting real life. There are no neat bows tied around anything, plot lines are not resolved as the audience would like it to be and ultimately we are presented with reality, as messy and uncomfortable as it is. The ensemble navigates this as best as they can, squeezing every laugh and profound moment out of the text.

The production is not perfect. A door blocks a third of the audience’s view for several scenes. It is surprising that the same director who created an otherwise phenomenal show made such an elementary error. My view was blocked for part of the play, which did dampen my experience watching it. The show is also a marathon, at nearly two hours, with no intermission. However, the cast manages to stave off any boredom that might creep into the audience through their great performances and the high personal stakes they successfully convey.

As the Theater Arts Department’s only mainstage show of the semester, “Wolf Play” delivered. It owes quite a bit to its cast, many of whom were making their department debuts. Shin’s direction is, for the most part, excellent. “Wolf Play” is a work that sticks with you long after curtain call, with fantastic performances, an unflinching script and the department’s usual high production value. It’s a play that grapples with tough contemporary issues, but doesn’t forget to tell a deeply human story. Overall, it was a production that showed off the best that the theater department has to offer.

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