Hansol Jung’s ‘Wolf Play’ roars at Theatre Exile

Wolf Play
Makoto Hirano is pictured in ‘Wolf Play’, now on stage at Theatre Exile.
Paola Nogueras

“I love theater that moves and I love crazy narrative.” —Theatre Exile’s Deborah Block

Audiences will enjoy both at Theatre Exile’s ‘Wolf Play’ by South Korean playwright Hansol Jung and its tale of an adopted Korean child and his new American parents — a lesbian couple where one of the pair is a boxer.

While Theatre Exile’s Producing Artistic Director Deborah Block – the director of ‘Wolf Play’ – talks about choosing the new work for its South Philly stage, local actor Bruce Baldini talks about their enthusiasm for boxing prior to this production, as well as making pugilism a regular part of their theatrical aesthetic and training regimen.

“Theater Exile had performed Hansol Jung’s work in the past, ‘Among the Dead’, but when I saw ‘Wolf Play’ in New York I was compelled to bring the playwright back to our stages,” says Block. “I fell in love with her storytelling in that previous staging. She knows how to jump from one time period to another, never feels constrained by linear storytelling, and everything she does amplifies the heart of the story so much. In her work, the form of the storytelling helps you understand what she’s saying. I love theater that moves and I love crazy narrative and at the heart of this story, Jung tells an important story about someone needing to find their pack, their family. There is also a story about children who get left behind or fall between the cracks to be told in ‘Wolf Pack’ – specifically when it comes to international adoption.”

Block states that Jung’s language is riveting, inventive and gloriously fun and pushes us to understand the importance of her message. “Her language makes you feel the story,” says the director.

Pictured are (from left) Kira Player, Makoto Hirano, Bruce Baldini, Matteo Scammell and Keith Conallen.Paola Nogueras

Getting access to this type of character, an LGBTQ+ boxer, for Baldini was a joy beyond tendering Jung’s language.

“The access to this sport provided me by ‘Wolf Play’ is awe-inspiring,” states Baldini. “It’s a thing that I never expected that I would be able to do. Growing up and watching so many boxing films and seeing mostly cis-men playing these action roles – the fact that I got my chance at something such as this was great. Then when I read through all of Wolf Play’s script, it was like, ‘Whoa.’ I never even thought such image and emotion – especially in terms of the relationships in the play – it never even occurred to me that that’s what I’d want to see on a stage, let alone be involved with it. It’s gorgeous.”

The inner and outer lives of Wolf Play’s adults — including the boy’s original adoptive father who balks at the idea of two women raising a child without a male father figure — are centered around the child’s search for individualism and connection, of being a lone wolf’s finding a pack that he can call his own.

“So much of this play sings to peoples’ hearts and minds,” says Baldini. “And Jung does so effortlessly and beautifully.”

Beyond the beauty of the language of ‘Wolf Play’ is the arduous, taxing action of boxing and its role in the aesthetics of the play – a training dynamic that was also witnessed on stage in Philadelphia last month with the presentation of ‘Rocky: The Musical’.

“This is super-duper fun to know: when it came time for the auditions, Bruce came in boxing regalia, and let me know with their body that this is what they wanted to do,” says Block. “I appreciate actors letting me know the thoroughness of just what they are auditioning for.”

As for the intensity of the boxing and training program necessary to make ‘Wolf Play’ roar, Baldini states that it in one thing to discuss being in the ring on stage, and yet another thing to actually live it and punch through it. Literally.

“The aesthetics of looking like a boxer, feeling like a boxer and being a boxer really got into my head as part of me and who I am in the play,” says the actor. “The images and physicality of being a boxer; once I stepped into the ring, any worry or negativity I had had just melted away. With the dynamics of family support in the play, I was able to approach boxing more curiously and realistically – it was if they were rooting for me, telling me that I was going to make this happen.”

‘Wolf Play’ is on stage at Theatre Exile now through Nov. 20. For information and tickets, visit theatreexile.org

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