NextFest 2016: Wolves

Wolves

Written and directed by Ashleigh Hicks
Featuring: Tyler Biddulph, Tyra Banda, Cheryl Vandergraaf, Jessica Watson, Kajsa Engel-Wood, and Christina Nguyen
Designer: Brianna Kolybaba
Stage Manager: Krystal Johnson

Remaining performances: June 8 @ 7:30 p.m.; June 10 @ 7:30 p.m.; June 12 @ 5:00 p.m.

After hearing about Wolves when it ran as part of the University of Alberta’s New Works Festival this past spring, I was excited to get another chance to see the show as part of NextFest 2016.  The play promises a thought-provoking evening – one of those shows you can’t see without forming an opinion on – and, in this regard, does not disappoint. Wolves takes place in a dystopian society that is under attack from a rapidly expanding population of creatures whose genetic mutation results in extreme violence. The action of the play takes place in a research lab where specimens are brought to be tested on by Dr Monaghan (Jessica Watson) and her assistant Poppy (Cheryl Vandergraaf). While Poppy aims to find a cure, Dr Monaghan’s objective is a reflection of a less hopeful outlook. As more is discovered about the species based on the doctor and her assistant’s examination of the new specimen (Christina Nguyen), things quickly escalate to the play’s sudden, shocking conclusion.

In an effort not to give away the play’s twists and turns, I won’t get into the specifics of the story, but I really enjoyed the premise of the story, which for me raised a lot of questions about humanity. Wolves left me asking questions like what is humanity? How do we determine who has it? What is a ‘good enough’ level of humanity? Who or what is worthy of being seen as having humanity? What forms of humanity are valid? And more frighteningly: what forms of humanity are invalid?

Along the same vein, it also returned me to the line of thought around the line between human and animal that Northern Light Theatre’s Wish raised for me earlier this year. In my post-show discussion with the friend that accompanied me to Wolves, I realized that, for me, the line between animal and human is not a hard line. A very clear memory from my childhood is how amazed I felt when I learnt that humans are a type of animal and that we share genes in common with certain animals. It seems those commonalities are still important to me (although that surprised me, and I’m sure anyone who knows me, as I don’t particularly like animals) and the discussion Wolves spurred for me was around how we treat other beings, regardless of genes. Whether a being is human, humanoid, or animal, is there a minimum standard for how we should treat others based on their lives intrinsically having value? Wolves raises that question in an ‘us versus them’ world and shows us the fallout of that decision.

I’m trying to be careful about what words I use to describe the play because the message of the play is ambiguous. Depending on your views, the play could be talking about human rights, animal rights, environmentalism, violence, war, or a myriad of other topics. While I felt this ambiguity worked in terms of spurring discussion, more clues about the world of the play (why were the creatures attacking? How long has this been happening? Why is their population larger than humans?) could have helped clarify the message of the play and focus the discussion.

I hope Wolves continues to be developed and grow as some of the most interesting parts of the show happen at the close of the show when one of the characters has made a life-altering decision. I would love to see ‘part 2’ of this play where there is further exploration of what happens once someone decides enough is enough.

Remaining shows of Wolves are June 8 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. and June 12 at 5:00 p.m. at the Roxy on Gateway (8529 Gateway Boulevard). Tickets are $10 per show, $18 for a day pass or $40 for a festival pass and can be bought online, by phone (780.453.2440), or in-person at the Roxy on Gateway 30 minutes before the performance.

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