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'Wild Animals': This time, Ripley's the sanest one
Alice Ripley plays the sanest of the bunch in the play 'Wild Animals You Should Know'
By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) ' For theater fans who couldn't get enough of Alice Ripley in her wrenching, memorable turn as a bipolar mother in "Next to Normal," here's some good news: Ripley is back in a new play.

The bad news is there's not nearly enough of her.

Ripley, playing a mom again (but this time a very stable one) has the smallest of the six roles in Thomas Higgins' "Wild Animals You Should Know," which opened Sunday at the Lucille Lortel Theater, an MCC production directed by Trip Cullman.



It's an unsettling play ' and not always in a good way ' that's much more interested in the male-male relationships on display.

And they are complicated ones. The title refers to the roles of predator and prey, and the playwright here is asking us to figure out which is which.

The most interesting character ' or at least the one with the most potential to be interesting ' is also the most disturbing: Matthew, a buff, self-involved teenager who's alluring to both sexes, and dangerously addicted to it.

We first meet Matthew as he's stripping ' via Skype ' a birthday present for his gay friend, Jacob. He's also reciting the Boy Scout pledge, further eroticizing the experience. "You look amazing," Jacob says. "But like... beautiful too, right?" Matthew asks. This is one narcissistic scout.

He's also a peeping tom, and what he spies with his binoculars a few moments later will set the play in motion: the boys' upright, committed scout master, Rodney, having a liaison with another man.

The scouts are about to go on an overnight trip, and Matthew decides on a shocking course of action that will not only rock the group but display just how twisted this teenager is. Any parent of a teen in the audience ' any parent, actually ' will surely cringe. Yikes, you'll think: Could my kid ever turn out like that?

Speaking of parents, Matthew's are a strange pair. Dad (Patrick Breen) is a brainy, nerdy type, an odd match for Marsha ' Ripley, for once playing the strongest, most stable character in the room. It's a relief to see the lone female character be the sanest. You do wonder, though, how Marsha, so comfortable in her own skin, ever hooked up with Walter, so, well, not.

And how did their son turn out this way? Would these parents really never venture up to Matthew's room to see what he's doing, and be so clueless as to his character? As Matthew, Jay Armstrong Johnson, suitably Adonis-like, gives a game performance in a challenging role, doing some awful things but needing to stay just needy enough to hold our interest.

Jacob is played sensitively by Gideon Glick, whom you might recognize as a member of the now-jettisoned Geek Chorus in the original "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." (He's still geeky here, but has more to do.)

John Behlmann as the stalwart scout master with secrets in his past and Daniel Stewart Sherman as a beer-guzzling scout dad round out the cast, which generally does fine work with a script that is somewhat lacking in direction.

As for Ripley, she has a freshness and vitality that's welcome, even when doing something as mundane as packing underwear in an overnight bag. But she hardly gets to flex the dramatic muscles she exercised in her Tony-winning turn in "Next to Normal."

This time, it's her kid that could use the therapy.

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Online: http://mcctheater.org


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