‘Wolves’ takes an edgy look at gay re­la­tion­ships

GA Voice - - A & E -

Former At­lanta play­wright Steve Yockey’s “Wolves” is any­thing but a stan­dard boy-meets­boy gay ro­mance. Mak­ing its world pre­miere at Ac­tor’s Ex­press this week­end, the gay-themed “Wolves” has a dark, edgier side – as well as some even­tual blood­shed.

Set in an uniden­ti­fied large city, “Wolves” finds two former lovers – at dif­fer­ent stages of their lives – still liv­ing to­gether. Clifton Guter­man plays Ben, a young man who has been a loner most of his life, start­ing in the small town where he grew up.

When Ben moves to the big city, he gets swal­lowed up and still feels iso­lated, Guter­man notes. He meets Jack (Brian Craw­ford) and they start a re­la­tion­ship, but when they break up, they are still forced to live to­gether for fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

As the play opens, Jack en­cour­ages Ben to leave the apart­ment and to re­al­ize that good is pos­si­ble in some of the guys he can meet. Jack goes to a bar, picks up a char­ac­ter named Wolf (Joe Sykes) and brings him back to the apart­ment. That is a mis­take: Ben is in­sanely jeal­ous of the new guy and his in­tro­duc­tion into their lives brings chaos.

The openly gay Yockey has a long his­tory with the Ex­press. Now liv­ing in Los An­ge­les, he de­buted his “Oc­to­pus” there back in 2008 and was an in­tern at the the­ater dur­ing “Beau­ti­ful Thing” (which starred Guter­man and Craw­ford as well) be­fore mov­ing to New York to go to grad school, where he was – iron­i­cally – room­mates with Guter­man for a short pe­riod of time.

Yockey wrote the en­tire draft of “Wolves” over sev­eral late nights in a New Or­leans ho­tel, he says.

Guter­man calls Ben a char­ac­ter deal­ing with some heavy is­sues, in­clud­ing how to pro­ceed with an ex af­ter the ro­mance fiz­zles.

“It’s a uni­ver­sal thing,” the ac­tor says. “It’s a hard thing un­til gay men are older. We date a lot of peo­ple, and some we stay friends with and other we don’t, oth­ers we never see again.”

Ben and Jack were a good match while it lasted and be­came some­what co-de­pen­dent, with Ben as some­one who does not like be­ing alone and Jack act­ing as a care­taker of sorts. The char­ac­ter of Wolf isn’t a mon­ster but in­stead a nor­mal guy deal­ing with his own lone­li­ness try­ing to de­ter­mine what Jack wants of him and un­in­ten­tion­ally in­ter­fer­ing.

The other char­ac­ter in “Wolves” is a nar­ra­tor played by Kate Dona­dio, who Guter­man says loses con­trol of the ac­tion she is in­tro­duc­ing.

Out les­bian Melissa Foul­ger, her­self no stranger to work­ing with the com­pany, di­rects. Foul­ger and Yockey have been friends for a long time. She de­scribes “Wolves” as a com­edy/drama, a very dark ver­sion of “Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood.”

She is a fan of Yockey’s work not just be­cause of its stylish as­pects – “there is al­ways some­thing vis­ually in­ter­est­ing there, such as the water el­e­ment in ‘Oc­to­pus’ – but also be­cause of its time­li­ness in ad­dress­ing is­sues per­ti­nent in the gay com­mu­nity.

“It’s about lone­li­ness and re­la­tion­ships, how we go about ne­go­ti­at­ing re­la­tion­ships and how the def­i­ni­tion of so­cial has changed,” Foul­ger says.

Cirque re­turns with ‘Totem’

With large, in­ter­na­tional casts, Cirque Du Soleil pro­duc­tions al­most al­ways fea­ture LGBT per­form­ers and “Totem,” now play­ing in At­lanta, is no ex­cep­tion. Un­der the Grand Chapiteau at At­lantic Sta­tion, “Totem” stars openly gay Joe Pu­tagnino as the lead­ing char­ac­ter, Crys­tal Man, who of­fi­cially brings the show to life decked out in a stretch vel­vet leo­tard.

“Totem” deals with the evo­lu­tion of an am­phib­ian form to that of an adult ready to fly away, on a stage re­sem­bling a tur­tle. Pu­tagnino calls Crys­tal Man the “spark” who lit­er­ally opens the show, fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally, and cre­ates life.

A com­pet­i­tive gym­nast grow­ing up, Pu­tagnino got side­tracked.

“I wanted to go to the Olympic tri­als and gave my en­tire life to it,” he says. “I was ob­sessed. But it got very dif­fi­cult as I got older. It was high pres­sure, try­ing to achieve per­fec­tion.”

He stopped and turned to drugs. While work­ing as a clerk at the New York Times, he was co­erced to get back into per­form­ing af­ter read­ing an ar­ti­cle about a con­tor­tion­ist.

“It was a long, dif­fi­cult process,” he says. “I had not done a split in 10 years. I was a heroin ad­dict.”

He de­cided to get help and was able to res­ur­rect a per­form­ing ca­reer. He ap­peared on Broad­way in Twyla Tharp’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and was later asked by Robert Lepage, the di­rec­tor of “Totem,” to come aboard in 2009. The ac­tor was part of the world pre­miere in Mon­treal in 2010.

In all the cast in­cludes more than 50 mu­si­cians and ac­ro­bats. A per­former’s sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion is not an is­sue in Cirque Du Soleil, Pu­tagnino notes. First and fore­most, they are all ath­letes work­ing to­gether to do a job, he says.

He has been with the show since its in­cep­tion and At­lanta is his last city. He is ex­cited to be able to move on to a dif­fer­ent project, hop­ing to do some act­ing and mod­el­ing, but is melan­choly about leav­ing his tight-knit Cirque fam­ily be­hind.

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Totem’ stars gay gym­nast Joe Pu­tagnino as the lead­ing char­ac­ter, Crys­tal Man. Af­ter yearn­ing for the Olympics, Pu­tagnino over­came drug ad­dic­tion to re­turn to gymnastics on stage. (Photo by OSA Im­ages)

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