John Racioppo '11 is a wolf — or at least he is this weekend in Production Workshop's newest play, "Red," which opens Friday night in T. F. Green Hall. Written and directed by Daria Marinelli '10, "Red" is a mature retelling of the traditional Little Red Riding Hood story.
The play doesn't offer expositions on how big the wolf's teeth are. Nor does it paint the wolf in a purely wicked light, and Diane, played by Abby Colella '12, the play's own "Little Red," is no angel either. "Red" chooses to paint the world not in the black-and-white terms of good and evil so often seen in childhood fairytales, but in the varying shades of gray that define reality.
"The play is about growing up and making choices when there aren't any right decisions," Marinelli said. When she started writing the play, Marinelli said she did not know that it would be a new take on the childhood story.
"It's not the seed of the play, but it lies tangent to it," she explained. "There are echoes of the past story, but with some changes."
For one, Diane is a grown woman, engaged to her town's soon-to-be-mayor, Roger, played by Ted Cava '11. The two live with her grandmother, played by Mariagrazia LaFauci '12, in a small house on the edge of town. Isolated from their neighbors by the surrounding woods, the family lives quietly and peacefully — on a good day. Unfortunately for Diane, today is not going to be a good day.
The play opens, fittingly, with the howling of a wolf. Diane rushes out of her house — barefoot and anxious to listen to the beast's call. She speaks to the audience directly, explaining her predicament in loose, metaphorical language.
Diane was in love once — that much is clear — but that love, which she compares to a wild and ever-changing river, let her down. Her one constant has been Roger, her lifelong friend who is all about tradition and propriety. He does things the way his father did them. There is a comfort between the two and their relationship is teasing, light and easy as breathing.
Enter Racioppo's half-man, half-wolf character, Red, who shares a romantic past with Diane. Bounding onto the scene on all fours, Red returns to his former lover's house to ask Diane for help. Roger has declared open season on wolves since his dear fiance has been kept up at night due to the incessant howling. Red fears the shooters tremendously — he is the only wolf in these woods and he knows they won't stop hunting until they find him.
Red begs Diane to let him stay, but the pair's relationship is volatile. He cannot control his wolf side long enough to give Diane the stable, safe relationship she needs. But, at the same time, the two share something she and Roger do not — passion. Diane may love Roger, but it is a young love, sweet and relaxed. With Red, Diane can push aside all of the expectations that Roger, and the town may have of her and simply be herself. Their love is explosive and temperamental, but still comfortable in that Red knows her and accepts all of her.
Diane must choose — the howler or the mayor — and it's not so easy a decision. As Marinelli said, the play is about the "transformative power of love. It can turn you into a monster or back into a human again too," she said.
This is literally the case for Red, who can only fully become human when Diane willingly kisses him due to a curse he claims Zeus has placed on him. At all other times, Red is in a state of limbo — he thirsts for fresh meat, sheds all over Diane's bathroom, nuzzles her leg and bounds around with the grace and strength of a wolf.
Racioppo said he spent a lot of time looking at videos of wolves, as well as studying a source closer to home, his dog. Racioppo had to see how these characteristics would "fit a human body and, then, how you keep the wolf characteristics when you're playing a man," he said.
Racioppo's smart performance, which could have easily been over-acted, was captivating to watch. He truly brought the wolf to life. Where Racioppo brought out his animal side, Cava's Roger was all about propriety, and his quiet performance of the text definitely delivered.
The star of the show, however, is Colella. Her Diane is both sweet and saucy at the same time as she grapples with her emotions throughout the play. Her sincere portrayal brings audience members into the action and keeps them on the edge of their seats as they await her decision.
"Red" is running April 16–19 at 8 p.m. with an additional performance on Saturday, April 17, at 10 p.m.