‘Wolves’ takes an edgy look at gay relationships
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)