Cry Wolf is the latest new play at the prodigious, 32-year-old Thirteenth Street Repertory Theatre, but regrettably has little to recommend it. Tainted by poor writing and weak direction, Cry Wolf is a derivative exploration of personal and professional responsibility and questions of morality as seen through the lens of the life of a combat photographer. Following a predictable line of plotting, conflict, and resolution, the play’s themes would only be provocative in an earlier, more provincial time.
The story is centered on Nick "Wolf" Grey (Jules Helm), a seasoned Australian combat photographer, whose professional experience goes back to Vietnam. He returns to Sydney to be honored for his achievements and to have his biography done by young writer Rebel Delmer (Rachel Venokur). In the course of their ad hoc interviewing, questions arise as to Nick’s personal involvement in the subjects he photographs, whether it is motivated by sexual interest or political commitment, and his ethics in regard to just being an uninvolved recorder of wartime events or someone who takes an active role in people’s suffering.
Nick’s swashbuckling lifestyle suddenly experiences a complication when Rose (Erin Hadley), the daughter he never knew, literally shows up on his doorstep. Wanting to be a photographer herself, she desires to connect with her long-lost father after her mother dies. Not knowing what to do with her, he turns to Marie (Koo Abuali), an old flame with a maternal persona, to become a surrogate mother to Rose. Through determined probing of Nick’s personal and professional life via interviewing and going through his photographs, the characters around Nick compel him to take steps toward empathizing with people and not just using them.
The production failed to play first and foremost because of an underdeveloped script. Filled with thinly drawn characters and bitchy bantering straight out of an episode of Melrose Place, the text seemed to draw more on television as its inspiration than on what a world-wise photographer’s life is really like. The production was littered with hard-to-believe, often goalless squabbling and phony confrontations, and the characters came off as immature caricatures who spewed sass in lieu of engaging in conflict. Much harped on is Nick’s lack of commitment to his subject matter, particularly with children, and when he finally does offer Rose some acceptance, the subtextual themes played off as shallow and predictable.
Poor direction did not inspire performances that were reality-based or themes that were given serious consideration. The set design (Tom Harlan), which was lacking in any photos on the walls or collections of camera equipment, offered little that suggested an internationally recognized photographer’s home. The vitally important issues of professional responsibility and personal morality when faced with horrific injustices were simply not given the treatment they deserved.
Also featuring Michael Waldron.
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Copyright 2004 Adam Cooper