Playwright: Ike Holter. At: Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-871-3000; TeatroVista.org; $25-$30. Runs through: March 5
Abe ( Gabriel Ruiz ) shows up beaten, bloody and discombobulated in the middle of the night in a marginal Chicago neighborhood.
Next day he tells his boss/friend Nunley ( Bear Bellinger, in a witty and energetic performance ) and kid sister Miranda ( Ayssette Munoz ) that he was verbally attacked ( "spic," "wetback" ) in a bar and then followed and jumped in an alley. Abe says the perp was a white cop. Same old Chicago, right? Sis contacts a local Latinx TV reporter, Frida ( Sandra Marquez in an assured turn ), who agrees to air Abe's story, characterized as a hate crime. Frida is hard-boiled, manipulative and dismissive but believes Abe's willingness to speak publically can be a game-changer in how the Latino community is perceived.
Of course, there are complications, even in an 85-minute play. Seems Abe is not telling the complete story. Then, Nunley meets a white cop ( James D. Farruggio ) at a dive bar who may be the perp, but definitely is threatening. Author Ike Holter also adds quick bursts of conflict between Abe and Nunleycan Nunley be both boss and friend?and between Abe and Miranda, who lives with Abe but contributes nothing towards rent or expenses. These personal conflicts are important character beats, but they aren't what the play is about. They aren't fully explored or resolved, so maybe the play doesn't need them.
There are several themes: standing up for oneself, honesty and trust, fighting back, community and how to bring about change within the 'hood and city. This last idea is the dominant one, along with the unasked question of what kind of change to seek. Abe, Nunley and Frida see media exposure as an effective tool, but Miranda demurs when she uncovers the details Abe has withheld. In the final tableau, the threatening cop silently sidles up to Abe as he celebrates his new media fame.
Holter is a master of language so everyone in the play is glib, sometimes too glib. Several sections of colorful patter are delivered too fast for comprehension, especially when two characters speak at the same time. Is it written that way? Or is this a choice of director Ricardo Gutierrez?
For the most part, however, this world premiere is very well done. Ruiz brings clarity to Abe's fear, anger and occasional charm while Munoz is passionate in her largely-reactive role as sometimes-annoying Miranda. Farruggio is effectively scary as the undercover and drunk cop. Milo Bue's gritty loading dock setting is generic but suitably urban. Still, The Wolf at the End of the Block isn't a complete play. The ambiguous final moment and the underexplored personal issues make it seem like a really interesting Act I of a larger piece.
ARTICLE CORRECTED Friday, Feb. 17: "director Gerald Gutierrez" has been changed to "director Ricardo Gutierrez" Ricardo Gutierrez is a distinguished veteran Chicago actor who is artistic director of Teatro Vista. Gerald Gutierrez (1950-2003) was a New York-based Broadway director who has several times worked in Chicago.