In 2010 five teenagers look at the world outside their apartment for the very first time. Almost their entire lives up to had been spent confined within a three-bedroom New York apartment. A few years later the world will get to look back at them through “The Wolfpack”, a documentary that recounts the incredible and disturbing story. This weekend at CREA cafe theatre group STA attempted to tell their story once again, only this time live and onstage.
As the audience is ushered into the small theatre the actors are already waiting for us, lying down and covered in white sheets. A single boy sits on a chair holding a microphone expectantly in one corner. Although the performance hasn’t even started the tension is already palpable. We take our seats and wait for the lights to dim. In the next hour, we will watch the Angulo family -in this incarnation as fifteen siblings- come to life in front of us, reenact both scenes from their lives and scenes from their favourite movies, the two quickly blurring together in the maddening confines of their small apartment.
Adapting such a brutal reality to the stage is a difficult task, and even more difficult is the constant choice between remaining faithful to already existing source material or sacrificing accuracy for the sake of the performance. The movie scenes scattered about the narrative are a prime example of this balance struck right- taking full advantage of the extended cast, clever choreography and lighting to create striking visuals and bring to life iconic movies from Mad Max to The Sound of Music.
Where the play suffers, unfortunately, is in its attempt to emulate documentary-style testimonials by having actors repeatedly address the audience directly. One of the most well-known pieces of writing advice is ‘show, don’t tell’- something that “The Wolfpack” as a stage play with an ample and mostly talented cast should have had little trouble with. Instead, however, great moments are interrupted by lengthy and oftentimes redundant explanations or confessions that fall flat and feel entirely inauthentic. At best it is a clumsy attempt to fill time and at worst it shows that the writers trusted neither their audience nor their actors and felt the need to follow up emotional scenes with monologues written with all the wit, subtlety and dramatic tension of a dishwasher manual.
Overall, “The Wolfpack” is an ambitious project blessed with excellent scenography, clever choreography and a dedicated cast and crew. Sadly none of this was enough to drag the dense and clumsy writing along into a truly good show, and most of its true potential just barely manages to peak through in disappointingly few instances.