Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wild Animals You Should Know

[spoilers below]

I'm not exactly sure what Thomas Higgins is trying to say in his intriguing play Wild Animals You Should Know (currently at the Lucille Lortel Theatre). He's clearly interested in relationships, definitions of manhood, and the lies we tell ourselves, but his beliefs and conclusions on these topics are obscure.

The plot: Jacob and Matthew are teenage friends. Jacob loves, or at least has a major crush on, Matthew. Matthew accepts Jacob's adoration because it makes sense to Matthew that people love and want him.

When Matthew finds himself attracted to his scoutmaster Rodney, he ruins Rodney's life, mainly because he has the power to do so. So, is Matthew a narcissist? Pathologically self-hating? A garden-variety psychopath? Sociopath? Was he "born bad"? Did his parents do something terribly wrong? Who is he anyway? What is this play about?

I suspect that Wild Animals You Should Know would not hold up well to repeat viewings or careful reading. However, despite its faults, it is consistently thought-provoking and never dull. The solid direction by Trip Cullman helps, as does the top-notch acting, particularly by Patrick Breen as Matthew's ineffectual father (his pratfall is a thing of beauty), Gideon Glick as Jacob (he brings depth to a role that needs it), Daniel Stewart Sherman as an adult who seems to know the "man rules," and John Behlmann as the scoutmaster whose life is destroyed by Matthew. Higgins--and the audience--is lucky to have them all.

(subscriber ticket, first row center)

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