It’s the end of the evening, the end of The Wolf at the End of the Block. The lead character, Abe (Gabriel Ruiz) is in a bar, thinking about what he has done.
“For once, for a night even, I get to go to sleep knowing I did something good and tomorrow…. Tomorrow we’re in a whole new world.”
But the cop, James (James D. Farruggio) comes in, orders a drink. He and Abe make eye contact. You know that they’ve met before and will meet again.
That’s how Ike Holter’s new play, a world premiere at Teatro Vista, ends. I haven’t revealed any spoilers, other than to observe that on Chicago’s mean streets, a guy can’t ever be sure he’s in a whole new world.
Ricardo Gutierrez, artistic director of Teatro Vista, directs this 85-minute thriller, set on the streets and alleys of Chicago. Abe, aka Alejandro, has been beaten up after having a late-night drink or two in a cop bar. (Wrong place, wrong time perhaps.) Now it’s morning and he’s late for work.
His sister, Miranda (Ayssette Munoz) is talking with Nunley (Bear Bellinger), who owns the store where Abe works. She’s frantic because Abe didn’t come home last night. Nunley tries to calm her down. When Abe arrives, bloody and beaten up, Miranda decides to do something. She admires Frida, a well-known local TV journalist, and offers her Abe’s story, including an interview with the victim. Sandra Marquez plays Frida as a tough, warm-hearted reporter, but she only wants a story when all the pieces fit together. After hearing Miranda’s story and meeting Abe, she decides they do fit and Abe agrees to go on television and talk about how he was beaten up by an off-duty cop.
Frida says, “This is fresh for you, still, and I want you to think about not just how you’re feeling right now, …I want you to think about tomorrow, and the next week, and when you look back ….I want you to think if this is worth it.”
And Abe responds, “What happened to me happens to a lot of people, but: nobody ever says anything. And I wanna stop that. I wanna help. …I wanna say something.”
But Holter’s script recognizes that cops face risks too; it’s not all racial profiling. In a bar scene with Nunley, James says, “Nobody gets it unless they have to get it, but it’s tough thinking everybody wants to get you, cause if you don’t, if you just see the good in everybody, constantly like me: You mess up the one wrong time and you’re dead.”
Holter’s dialogue is riveting, Chicago street smart and toughly poetic. Gutierrez’s directing moves the plot along with no detours and brings out its relevance. The excellent cast is led by Ruiz’s strong performance as Abe, with Munoz persuasive as a loving and fearful sister. The charismatic Bellinger makes Nunley’s role come alive. Marquez is reliably powerful as Frida. She has shown her versatile talent recently playing Clytemnestra in Court Theatre’s Greek trilogy. Farruggio’s cop looks the part but his voice is too soft and some of his long speech to Nunley in the bar is lost.
Holter’s Chicago premiere script will surely get some reworking, but it’s a very tight and well-written story right now. His plays Exit Strategy and Hit the Wall premiered in Chicago and moved to off-Broadway productions in New York. He premiered three new plays in Chicago last year: Sender, Prowess and Stay Lit. He was recently named a Victory Gardens ensemble playwright and is working on a commission there for a new play.
The Wolf at the End of the Block by Teatro Vista continues at Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., through March 5. Performances are Thursday-Sunday and tickets are available for $25-30.