‘Elk and Wolf’deals with pressing issues
Published: Monday, February 11, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 11, 2013 06:02
An intimate theater space was transformed into the austere interior of an interrogation room this weekend, when local theater company M. T. Pockets presented their second major production of the 2013 season, "Elk and Wolf."
Co-written by Professor Emeritus Don Fidler and Travis Teffner, who plays Trevor "Tracker" Wolf in this production, the play deals with some of the most pressing issues in the United States today. Fidler and Teffner tackle health care, terrorism and consumerism, which is no small feat. And they did so on such a personal and relatable level that many in the audience were brought to tears by the play’s end.
The performance opened with FBI Agent Margaret Finch, played by Mya Brown, an MFA theater student at WVU, interrogating a young man in an orange jumpsuit. We learn this young man’s name is Bailey Caulfield Ross, (played by Sean Marko,) and he is the son of affluent globetrotters who never had time to devote to rearing a child.
Also, we learn Bailey has just committed his first act of terrorism by blowing up a Shell gas station.
Bailey, a spoiled junior WASP from the U.S., certainly calls into question what we think of when we imagine terrorists. However, he has definitely worked for the last eight years of his life to plan what is essentially an act of terrorism meant to capture the attention of the U.S. government.
Agent Finch can’t seem to get anything out of Bailey, though, and she decides to send in one of her FBI interns, the nervous but promising Tracker Wolf.
As the play progresses, Tracker and Bailey grow close in a relationship that can’t really be called a friendship but certainly involves a level of respect and understanding.
Tracker is able to win Bailey’s confidence, and we learn Bailey has been on a mission for more complete and cost-effective health care since he was 14.
Bailey was diagnosed with leukemia at 13. He was sent to a clinic, where he met Alfonso "Mex" Ortiz. Mex becomes his best friend, but because he cannot afford the treatments for leukemia he passes away. Bailey is crushed by the injustice.
After eight years of planning, Bailey has certain people – what we can only imagine as a mobilized force that also wants social change – carry out the master plan while he sits in solitary confinement after the first explosion. The targets of his plan aren’t only Shell gas stations; he hits many major corporations, including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.
The relationship between Bailey and Tracker flourishes because Tracker is naturally good at his job. He is clearly a dedicated FBI agent, which can be seen when the play takes the action from the interrogation room to Tracker’s home, with his expecting wife, pediatrician Teanna, (played by Shannon Uphold, a sophomore theatre student at WVU.) His care for her and the strife his dedication to his job can cause are both obvious but often at odds.
As the play progresses, we see Bailey’s plan get out of hand.
It turns out many people are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S., and Bailey’s call to action fuels many more acts of terrorism. This inability to control the situation leads to a breakdown on all fronts, and the play leaves us unsettled in such a way that feels true to our times but awfully grim.
With such a small cast, each member of the ensemble had to deliver an impressive performance for the play to work so well.
Watching Teffner as Tracker’s transformation from shaky newbie to an incensed agent back to a man unsure of the federal system was remarkable. And with each stage in the character’s development, Teffner brought an unrivaled emotional intensity to the role.
At the beginning of the performance, Teffner portrayed tracker as unsure of himself and a little afraid of Bailey – literally shaking as he talked to the young man.
But as his relationship with Bailey evolved, and as the terror Bailey incited came closer to Tracker’s home, he transformed into a man determined to save the lives of innocents. And, by the end of the play, Tracker was back to his shakiness, but this time it’s because he has lost so much – control, his wife and baby and faith in justice.
Marko as Bailey deserves some recognition, as well. In a medium often focused on movement and filling the theatrical space, Marko performed the entire show in handcuffs and ankle cuffs. He was excellent at mitigating this for two reasons.
First, even though his mobility was restricted, he made the most by moving his body as much as possible, talking with his hands and making deliberate moves across the stage. Secondly, Marko’s facial expressions were impeccable. He brought all the disturbing force of a slightly deranged youth.
Brown as Agent Finch perfectly portrayed a powerful, no-nonsense female agent with a sass and frankness that often provided comic relief. And Uphold as Teanna provided the layers of happiness and sorrow of an expecting mother bringing a baby into an often tumultuous world.
The set design by Andrew Amadei also deserves some mention, as it was unlike any other I have seen at M. T. Pockets. The main wall in the interrogation room was made so it could swing against the back wall of the stage, and it became the fireplace of the cozy first home of Tracker and Teanna. A quick set crew made the change each time the setting changed, and it truly transformed the mood of the play.
If you’re looking to escape into a good story and see some amazing performances, M. T. Pockets has a diverse season planned for 2013. Filled with everything from comedies to dramas, play festivals and holiday plays, this year should be a very exciting one for M. T. Pockets.
The next show, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning "Doubt: A Parable," written by John Patrick Shanley and directed by Christian Cox, will run Mach 8-9 and 14-16 at 8 p.m. Tickets will be $14.50 for adults, $12.50 for senior citizens and $9 for students.
M. T. Pockets is located next to Book Holders at 1390 ½ University Ave. For more information, including upcoming productions and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://mtpocketstheatre.com.