Presented by WholeTone Opera
Based on Le Loup-Garou by Louise Bertin
Fresh Libretto by Teri Kowiak & J. Deschene
New Music by Molly Preston
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Davis Square, Somerville, MA) The Werewolf fooled me. Genuinely fooled me. I don’t know if that was its intention, but it did. It begins wholly in the realm of operatic convention. Alice (Jeila Irdmusa/Katie O’Reilly) wanders through the dark woods, possibly beset by something terrible. She meets her sisters, played by Nathalie Andrade, Elizabeth Clutts, Brooke Dircks, and Rebecca Wright, and they frolic. Then she encounters a handsome young man (played fantastically by Andy Troska through out the play) and they, well, also frolic, though in a much more suggestive way. Then we jump forward to Alice and her sisters preparing for her wedding, where Bertrand (Nick Stevens) reveals a werewolf (or loup-garou) is on the loose and the charming, flamboyant Vincent (Von Bringhurst/Nora Maynard) is referred to as a man of “unusual tastes,” everyone starts kissing each other, and the ethereal aura of the beginning collapses into a riotous comedy of errors with supernatural elements and a prominent queer subplot.
The show bills itself as a queer opera and yet I found myself wondering if I had been mistaken—if I was sitting in on another play that happened to be titled The Werewolf, what with the Halloween productions in bloom and all—until Vincent and Alice sit down for a secret drink and a wonderful bitching session. Their friendship feels real, especially in the midst of the highly stylized singing in the highly stylized parlor of Madame Raimbaud (Teri Kowiak/Sara Bielanski). Their exchanges are also the first hint that The Werewolf is a work of reinvention.
At first, the calcified elements of classic opera sit uncomfortably with the new themes. Alice appears to be a forlorn, innocent maiden until her interest in witchcraft and secret flask is revealed. Vincent seems to be a minor part in a larger, musical world until he becomes unapologetically gossipy, flirtatious, and just plain fun. Madame Raimbaud’s apparent adherence to rigid tradition obscures a wonderful running joke about her secret, impressive strength.
The jokes that work are imminently entertaining, such as the low-key revelation that Alice is totally-not-a-witch-except-well-there-was-the-witch-sisters-thing-and-what-was-with-the-lamb-and-the-hacksaw. Or Bertrand’s frustrated gesticulating as he tries to sort out his messy feelings. Not every punchline lands, though.
The costumes the night I went didn’t entirely work, either. The werewolf costume, when it does appear, is a good reminder of why the werewolf is one of the more seldom used of the Hollywood monsters. The character is a great metaphor, but getting the costume right is really hard. I admire the invention of the transformation, however.
The costumes that do work work beautifully. Alice’s boots and wedding dress are put to wonderful use for far queerer purposes than a hetero wedding.
For all the play’s publicity that refers to it as a queer werewolf story, it’s odd that Alice and her suitor, an apparent man and woman in a less than traditional but still hetero courtship, are the ones who are the “alpha” couple. This caveat is a relatively small one, though, as Vincent, Bertrand, and Count Albéric all unabashedly fall within the spectrum of queer, whether they’re gay, bi, or possibly gender queer. They steal the show, redefine it with comic touches, the metaphor of transformation, and tinges of deep longing.
The ending neatly pieces together the disparate parts of the musical—19th century melodrama, modern bedroom comedy, and supernatural romance—and lands neatly gift-wrapped for the viewer. If Gilbert and Sullivan had a penchant for werewolves and were down with adult humor and LGBTQ themes, I like to think they would write something that ends as satisfyingly as The Werewolf.
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.
Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD