Jeremy Booth, Gus Brown, Anna Francolini, Sarah Moyle
What’s that howling just outside the window? Is it the wolves? Or , rather, is it the wails of anguished audience members, thinking they were in for a rousing comedy – or at the very least, something a tetchmore stimulating than what’s on-stage at 59E59’s Theater B, where Wolves at the Window is currently playing as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival?
Based on stories by Saki (a.k.a. Hector Hugh Munro), a British wit whose comic fables gave way to the works of writers like Noel Coward and Evelyn Waugh, playwright Toby Davies has adapted a series of loosely related stories, employing a cast of four in a number of mustache-twisting roles that never quite amount to much more than a string of caricatures.
Of course, this is, at least in part, the very aim of fables and folktales – to utilize character types in service of some larger societal conjecture. However, in these extremely English stories, there’s never much of a point beyond mere cleverness. Without any unifying conceit, the evening feels sluggish and trying.
Though each of the four actors seems eager to please, there’s not much they can do with the rather tepid material with which they’re equipped. There are several amusing stories – namely one about a cat who learns to speak and another about a woman who pretends a stuffed dog is a real pet – but no amount of mugging on the part of the cast can turn the watery tales on display into anything more potent.
Anna Francolini makes somewhat more of an impression than her cast mates, if only because she seems somehow more engaged in the act of making the characters she plays over the course of the evening seem relatable – rather than mere cardboard cutouts. Sarah Moyle prefers instead to mug her way through the evening. Gus Brown and Jeremy Booth are both amiably forgettable in the evening’s male roles.
If there’s one thing of which Wolves at the Window is guilty, it’s not really that it’s bad per se, but rather that it’s dull. Perhaps these tales would go over better before a British audience who’d latch on to every “in” joke along the way, but to an American audience looking for a taste of the U.K., Wolves at the Window seems more a creaky reminder of what’s not to like rather than a touchstone of what’s thrilling about British theatre as a whole.