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Wolf Play Offers Message of Family Amid Cluttered Chaos
Friday, April 19, 2024


“The truth is a wobbly thing…I am not what you think you see. I am the wolf,” says Jaine Ye in the opening of “Wolf Play” before letting out a howl.

Later, the narrator dressed in a wolf’s costume teases the audience about whether they’re sure they want to stick around for the ending.

Of course, they want to see this unconventional, chaotic, steamroller of a play through to the end!

The Spot is staging South Korean-born playwright Hansol Jung’s critically acclaimed new “Wolf Play” through April 28. And actor Natalie Battistone says it resembles a freight train.

“There is a beautiful and funny prologue from the Wolf at the beginning to prepare you–a bit of a disclaimer for how to understand what you are about to see–and then it pushes full tilt to its inevitable and shocking end,” she said. "You know it’s not real--it’s just a bunch of what ifs. Sometimes it feels so real, but if you do walk out, you might miss the moment where those what-ifs destroy the what-is." 

The play opens as Robin, played by Battistone, is nervously preparing to receive the hand-off of a 3-year-old Korean boy. The boy had been adopted by Peter and his wife Katie but they no longer want Pete Jr. Not only does he act up but—hey—Katie just gave birth to their own child.

The two parties made the transition, not through court services, but through

It sounds incredible but Jung was inspired to write the story after reading an article about such transactions that happen typically following international adoptions.

In her haste to “re-home” the little boy, Robin neglects to tell her non-binary spouse Ash played by Vanessa Sterling, and Ash hits the roof upon arriving home in the middle of the hand-off.

“This is grown up? Getting a child from Yahoo?!” Ash questions the transaction in an angry outburst.

Upon realizing that Ash and Robin are lesbians, Peter realizes to his consternation that Pete Jr. will grow up without a father in the traditional sense. And Robin is upset to realize that Pete Jr., who prefers to call himself Jeenu, is 6, not three as she’d been told.

The play has a feel of cluttered chaos from the kitchen cloaked in cardboard to the cereal spilled on the floor to the dropping of the balloons and a boxing ring that drops from the ceiling and then converts to a courtroom match. Even the audience is set up bleacher style on opposite sides of the theater as if watching a sporting event.

The play is heartwarming on one hand and heart-wrenching on the other.

Jeenu, a 3-foot-puppet, is made from repurposed lumber by Wood River Valley resident and retired Broadway props master Owen Parmele so that Ye can operate him by sticking her hand in his back and rearranging his spindly arms and feet when he’s boxing or giving a hug.

He’s not particularly cute. His face is blank, reflecting the fact that none of the adults in this little boy’s life see him as a real boy with feelings.

He takes two hours and five stories to fall asleep. He has anger issues. He can’t follow the rules at school, but, then, the adults around him are not setting examples for him to learn from as they duke it out.

Jeenu comes to life, however, through Ye, who endears him to the audience with her childlike facial glances punctuated by cold hard stares. And Jeenu proclaims he’s not a boy but a wolf as he adopts a dissociative identity that gives him the resilience he needs to survive as he’s bounced from one family to another.

"I think the puppetry element of this play is one of the things that makes it so unique and captivating,” said Sterling. “It forces us into a world of imagination and asks us to question what is real, what is true."

By keeping the wires showing and placing a puppet in the lead, we’re given frequent and jolting reminders of the theatricality of the piece, added Director Kevin Wade: “This alienation effect oddly draws us in and brings us closer to the story as reality and fiction blend.”

Robin is more worried about the things she thinks she needs to be a parent, including having the appropriate number of balloons on hand, than getting down to Jeenu’s level and truly trying to understand him.

“Is that too much?” she asks her brother Ryan, played by Jovani Zambrano, as they blow up a plethora of balloons.

She introduces Jeenu to yoga, but Jeenu takes a shine to Ash, more interested in watching Ash punch others as Ash prepares to compete against males.

Robin’s immature brother Ryan fears Jeenu will hinder his goal of having Ash put his boxing club on the map. His solution to Jeenu is that the kid just needs toughening up.

And Peter, played by Brett Moellenberg?

“You must think I’m an animal,” the sheepish Peter says, ignorant that many animal species, including wolves, are more protective of their families than are some humans.

In fact, Ye tells the audience, wolves live in family groups called packs, with at least one adult always on hand to care for the pups until they mature: “Wolves need family. We hunt in packs. We sleep in packs. We travel in packs.”

"The playwright uses the taxonomy of the wolf as a metaphor for belonging–wolves need family, need a pack–and lone wolves are in serious danger,” said Wade. “Sometimes we're born into a pack, sometimes we're adopted by a pack, and sometimes we have to choose our own. Wolf says ‘fight for your family, back your pack over mostly anything and everything else.’ We have to keep our people and back our packs."

The play won the 2024 Obie Award for Playwriting and the 2023 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play.

Sterling said she was surprised by how unconventional –and extraordinarily moving—the play was for her.

“It’s rare that I’m so thoroughly gutted by a piece, just reading it,” she said. "I think there are a lot of distractions that can get in the way of what’s really important in this life, and that’s connecting with and caring for other people. This play WILL MOVE YOU in the most unexpected ways, whether you see yourself in the story or not.”

The play is about many things, but its chief focus is on the families we choose—and unchoose.

"I love the complexities, the relationships, the humor, the anxiety–and ultimately the love that drives us to find our packs,” said Wade.

ABOUT THE SET, which features plants growing out of the wall on one side and a kitchen covered with cardboard on the other:

"The scenic design is structured as a dichotomy, two sides of the space representing two sides of a coin, blending in the middle into theatrical blackness,” said Director Kevin Wade. “On the one side, we have the wolf's world, the natural organic shapes, representing what we feel we are. The other side, cardboard moving boxes piled haphazardly to represent what you think you see. This is a tension that the play interrogates–who we feel ourselves to be vs. how we are seen by others."


“Wolf Play” takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. April 18-28 at The Spot at 220 Lewis St. in Ketchum with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 28.

Free post-show talkbacks will be held Saturday, April 20, and Saturday, April 27.

Tickets start at $15, available at

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