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A CurtainUp Review
Wild Animals You Should Know

Donít you ever want to do something just because you can? — Matthew
Wild Animals You Should Know
John Behlmann and Alice Ripley
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
MCC has given Thomas Higgins's Wild Animals You Should Know a beautifully designed, evocatively staged production. It's ably directed by Trip Cullman and acted by a six-member cast. Unfortunately, Mr. Higgins has saddled the actors with less than fully developed characters and goes off in several directions without bringing his various plot points to a cohesive, meaningful conclusion.

Matthew (Jay Armstrong Johnson), the boy quoted at the top of this review is not only a blonde, handsome hunk but a high achiever and medal winning Boy Scout. What he wants to do " just because he can" is to force Rodney (John Behlman) his scoutmaster and neighbor in the anywhere USA suburb they live in, to own up to the lie he's been living. You see, beneath that nice boy, curly headed facade, there's a not so nice Matthewv—. a vain, mean-spirited, sexually and morally conflicted troublemaker.

While Matthew is very much a jock, his best friend is the unmistakably gay Jacob (Gideon Glick). It's a rather odd friendship, especially since Matthew is not averse to taking everything except his shorts off as a birthday gift for the admittedly horny Jacob. The strip tease gift is delivered through their laptops rather than in close proximity. One of the questions the play deals with is whether Matthew is a truly bad seed, or just a troubled kid acting badly as a result of not really understanding his sexual identity.

The scoutmaster's secret doesn't provide a mystery element since it's revealed in the first scene. Given that the action revolves a Boy Scout outing, perhaps Higgins's main intention is to use his play and its characters to make people aware that even with the armed forces finally ending its Don't Ask-Don't Tell policy the Boy Scout Organization has managed to hang on to its iron clad rule against permitting homosexuals to be scouts or scout masters.

To add another thematic thread there's Matthew's father Walter (Patrick Breen). He's been downsized from a job that he never loved but that has kept him too busy to be in touch with his son. Since he's now home more and with time on his hand, his wife Marsha (the wonderful Alice Ripley is totally wasted in this underwritten role) volunteers him as a parent to help oversee the scouts' field trip. His co-assistant scout is Larry (Daniel Stewart Sherman), another parent and a loud-mouthed, drunken lout. Their beer guzzling presence during the outing seems a rather boring and pointless interlude — unless it's meant to show that the straight scouting community has little claim to being the sort of admirable, upstanding Americans scouting s supposed to develop. If one wants to dig out an even larger theme — maybe the whole scouting business is supposed to be a metaphor for the ugliness of contemporary suburbia.

The use of titles, probably directly taken from the Boy Scout handbook, are projected at the beginning of each of sixteen scenes. The projected words often slyly allude to other meanings about to be dramatized on stage. The play's title is used to introduce the penultimate scene, a dramatic but disheartening showdown between father an son. When confronted by his father about his destructive boy scout deed, Matthew reacts by showing his "wild animal" side — and so does the outraged father. Too bad that this outpouring of pent up emotions doesn't really lead to a substantive finale. I have no objections to ambiguous endings, but in this case the ending simply underscores that this is a still unfinished, underwritten, unfocused play that needs to settle on a solid theme.

There's probably a good play in here somewhere. But it's been given this fine producton before it's ready for prime time. The producers would have been wise to followthe Boy Scout motto: "Be Prepared."

Wild Animals You Should Know by Thomas Higgin
Directed by Trip Cullman Cast: John Behlmann (Rodney), Patrick Breen (Walter), Gideon Glick (Jacob), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Matthew), Alice Ripley (Marcia), Daniel Stewart Sherman (Larry)
Scenic Design: Andromache Chalfant
Costume Design: Jenny Mannis
Lighting Design: David Weine
Sound Design:y Fitz Patton
Production Stage Manager Kelly Glasow
Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 & 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, without an intermission
MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre 121 Christopher Street
From 11/03/11; opening 11/20/11; closing 12/11/11.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer November 20th press performance
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