Jonald Jude Reyes is a Writer, Performer & Director in Chicago, IL. His works have been performed in various theaters city-wide, including Stage 773, The Annoyance, and The Second City. In 2016, he was named Best of Stage Director by the Chicago Reader and was selected to the DirectorsLabChicago program. Learn more at http://www.jonaldjude.com.
Pictured: Gabriel Ruiz and Ayssette Muñoz. Photo by Joel Maisonet.
Review: THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE BLOCK at Teatro Vista
By Jonald Jude Reyes
On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus. Within the colored section, the driver insisted that Parks give her seat to a white passenger after the white section was filled. She was not the first African-American to resist. Yet she was chosen as the best candidate to see her court case through because she was infallible, and in turn became the symbolic milestone of the Civil Rights Movement.
How does one handle the magnitude of being the chosen example? How does one upkeep the personification of a crusade? We can only imagine the pressures faced by Parks. Not only by the commentary of news outlets but by other African-Americans, and even furthermore by disagreeable Caucasians. Teatro Vista’s current production, THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE BLOCK, tells a modern fable of a man involved in a hate crime. Does his story of racial violence stand strong enough as preventive measures for future instances? Is his experience the chosen example?
Ike Holter’s play opens to the image of a bloody, beaten Latino man. He’s frazzled, emotionally overwhelmed, and earnestly pulling together pieces of thoughts. This is our main character Abe, played by Gabe Ruiz. Ruiz sustains a passionate delivery throughout the entire play. Abe is, on the surface, a man hiding his fear. Ruiz builds layers beyond that, defining specific moments of frustration and vulnerability. His pacing and tempo insert energy at precise moments, and right from the beginning establish the tone of this thriller the audience is about to embark on.
As the play continues, we are taken to the back entrance of a local Chicago cafe where we meet Miranda (Ayssette Muñoz), Abe’s sister, and Nunley (Bear Bellinger), a close family friend. While discussing Miranda’s incipient journalism career, the pair express anxiety that Abe is late for work. Munoz’s natural, hyper delivery of Holter’s dialogue exudes concern for Abe. Bellinger plays his character with smooth sophistication, and with a mix of playful comedic moments. He is easily relatable as everyone’s best friend from grade school.
Abe finally arrives to concern and severe questioning from his younger sister. As elder brothers tend to take on the role of family protector, he tells his sister to stop her worries. When Miranda leaves, Abe drops his strong brother facade and with fragility, tells his best friend, “I’m so scared.”
In this precise moment, if you are currently a minority in the United States, you understand. This one line of dialogue held such gravity that it silenced the audience. The release by Abe was our own release, and announced a shared mindset living in today’s America. “I’m so scared” is not knowing if you are safe walking down your own block. “I’m so scared” is the uncertainty of asking a police officer for help, but possibly getting blamed for the situation. “I’m so scared” is not knowing if a government official will set restrictions on just being yourself in public. Such a simple line of dialogue, yet so complex in interpretation.
As the play progresses, the story of Abe’s beating is revealed to us in pieces. As we probe the circumstances, we’re coincidentally presented with investigative reporter Frida (Sandra Márquez). Miranda sets up a meeting with Frida to publicize Abe’s incident in hopes to capture the culprit and stop future similar crimes. Marquez is detail oriented in her approach to Frida. With a specificity to her posture & walk, journalistic enunciation, and attitude, Marquez brings Holter’s words to another level of realism.
Frida listens to Abe’s story and is attracted to his charismatic persona. She finds the news angle she wants and understands this to be a hate crime story that needs to be told. But is Abe prepared to be the chosen example? Without revealing too much, James Farruggio’s portrayal of a police officer is stirring. His entrance into the play changes the environment of the moment and truly adds indulgent suspense.
Playwright Ike Holter presents well-developed character archetypes. With such strong motivational points of views, the pockets of monologues delivered come with fervent conviction. His premeditated blueprint to this thriller is perfectly timed to provide poignant reveals of Abe’s story. Even within the last 20 minutes of the play, the audience is presented with another divulgence which changes the dynamic to the nth degree. Holter is masterful in his structure and with such talented actors, delivers an amazing narrative.
THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE BLOCK runs through March 5th at Victory Gardens’ Biograph Theater. For more information visit teatrovista.org.