Although it has its cringy moments, fans of “Riverdale” recognize elements that make the CW series almost impossible to stop watching (believe me, I’ve tried; it’s addictive). The show’s plot, characters and aesthetics are whimsical, campy and just plain bizarre. Seriously, how many white, privileged high-school kids in suburbia have to deal with gang violence, drugs and murder on a daily basis? Yet, audiences keep coming back for more. Behind the sex, gore and overdramatic plots, “Riverdale” characters are still just teenagers—and we’ve all been one. “Riverdale” reminds viewers of what it feels like to be a teenager; each problem, however minuscule, is the end of the world.
“Wolfcrush: A Queer Werewolf Play” works to bring the same outlandish energy to the stage—complete with a high-school quarterback, nerd and class president. Just like the “Riverdale” kids, students of White Coon County, Virginia, have to deal with their own dose of horrors—hormones and werewolves included.
The play was first produced by On The Rocks, a Brooklyn-based company that specializes in campy, outside-the-box horror. Playwright Hayden Price Walker and friend Elaina Di Monaco first premiered the play at 2018’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival, where it was highly acclaimed. Now, just in time for Port City Pride’s official Labor Day weekend celebration (pages 34-35), comedy troupe Pineapple-Shaped Lamps (PSL) will debut “Wolfcrush” in ILM—and it’s not for the faint of heart.
Matt Carter has returned to PSL to direct for them a second time. In 2017 Carter directed “Bachelorette,” a play that shines a light on the harmful effects society has on women. It even received StarNews’ best play award. As soon as Carter read the “Wolfcrush” script, he knew it was a story he needed to tell.
“I tend to pick plays that connect with what I’m going through in my life,” Carter reveals. “It helps me direct the story a little better when I relate to the theme. I found ‘Wolfcrush’ on New Play Exchange, and it meant a lot for me to read; it hurt me. So I emailed the playwright and asked him if I could direct his play.”
Along with werewolves and murder, “Wolfcrush” deals with hard topics, most pointedly, the turmoil of coming to terms with one’s sexuality. Gay, bisexual or straight, the wave of hormonal desire that overwhelms us at a young age can be a scary change. What “Wolfcrush” focuses on, and rightfully so, is the added pressure that affects queer individuals.
“Queer theatre is didactic in purpose,” Carter explains. “It intends to educate straight people on treating gay people correctly, and that’s great and necessary. But ‘Wolfcrush’ is the only play I’ve read about gay people learning about themselves—about those initial instincts of finding out something is different.”
The play comprises three main acts, each with a separate genre. The first is reminiscent of a teen drama flick that centers around finding a date for homecoming. “You’re almost embarrassed watching it because you remember what it’s like to be that young,” Carter says.
The second act transitions into a crime drama/horror, while the last act is a “bizarre drug trip,” as Carter puts it. “But if I had to place the entire thing into a genre—it’s a horror-comedy.”
Horror comedies only work when they don’t take themselves too seriously. Underneath the horrifying moments, there’s a shadow of comedy. Something big and mean is terrorizing White Coon County, yet the mayor is offering Walmart gift cards for information, as the head detective watches “Law and Order” for tips. Better yet, the beast is a metaphor for the internal struggles the characters are facing.
“The characters in this show don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re trying so hard to control the way they’re viewed and hide things that are just under their skin,” Carter describes. “The darkness of it reflects that change. Change is scary, and ‘Wolfcrush’ shows you change can happen quite suddenly, whether you like it or not.”
Speaking of the characters in the show, ‘Wolfcrush’ covers a wide range of high-school stereotypes while subtly turning them on their heads. The new girl Junyce (Madeline Brien) is self-assured in her bisexuality, but White Coon County is less accepting. Kyle (Lily Nicole), the class vice president, and her quarterback boyfriend Huck (Kit Bertram), are the pillars of Southern decorum, but newly-found desires attempt to unhinge their carefully constructed image. And then there’s Beecher (Daniel Stinson), the shy nerdy kid who has an intense, caring nature.
Amid all of the tension, Billy, the class president, has gone missing. Bertram, Stinson, Nicole and Brien have the unenviable task of having to worry about both sex scenes and gore effects while also trying to capture the subtleties integral to Walker’s original script. “I’ve been hard on them,” Carter admits. “I say, ‘You have to be thinking this here because it’ll have a larger effect later in the play.’ We have to dissect it all into little pieces because as a teenager, your mind is a storm of hormones. But they’ve done a fantastic job. I couldn’t be prouder.”
With a production as extensive as “Wolfcrush,” the behind-the-scenes players are critical. Special effects expert Nicole Horton provides blood for the more grotesque scenes of the show. Thaddeus Friedline has composed an original score to add to the pulpy ’80s vibe. Eddie Key is creating the set to look like a comic book.
“All of our crew is working very hard to produce a polished final product, and Friedline’s score is beautiful,” Carter praises. “Wolfcrush” can be a play for everybody, but the show does contain explicit content, including harsh language, sexual situations and violence.
“I hope queer people see themselves represented in a way they’ve never seen before, and when allies watch the production, I hope they find it entertaining and relatable,” Carter says. “If you find the sex bothered you so much, maybe you should ask yourself: ‘Why is that?’ I think it’s time we all took sex a little less seriously.”
Wolfcrush: A Queer Werewolf Play
Aug. 29-Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m.;
Sept. 8, 3 p.m.
Ruth & Bucky Stein Theatre, Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St.
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