Three people and an all-white 2.5-foot puppet
Shotgun Players’ Wolf Play stars (left to right) Laura Domingo as Robin, Gabriella Momah as Ash, and Michael Loria as Wolf. Credit: Robbie Sweeny

Wolf Play, which opens in previews at Shotgun Players on Sept. 2, is an original and provocative drama by Hansol Jung. The show has already enjoyed recent successful runs in cities including New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

Wolf Play, Shotgun Players, Ashby Stage, through Oct. 1

The plot of Wolf Play is based on actual incidents in which adoptive parents posted on the internet their desire to “re-home” their unwanted adopted children. But award-winning playwright Hansol Jung takes this unbelievable storyline one step further — the child in Jung’s drama thinks he is a wolf.

In Wolf Play, adoptive parent Peter (Sam Bertken) decides that he and his wife can’t handle raising their 6-year-old adopted South Korean son, Jeenu, as well as dealing with the stresses of their newborn, so they advertise on a Yahoo message board to “give away” their son. Peter, an Arizonan, unknowingly gives his child to a Bay Area couple, lesbian Robin (Laura Domingo) and her non-binary partner, Ash (Gabriella Momah). But Robin and Ash’s lifestyle doesn’t sit well with Peter, and Peter tries to take Jeenu back. He seeks the help of Robin’s brother, Ryan (Caleb Cabrera).

In the middle of this emotional chaos is bright young Jeenu, who, throughout the play, refers to himself as a wolf and tries to assume the wolf’s innate animal characteristics. After a lifetime of abandonment, it is understandable that Jeenu yearns for a wolf pack to cling to and stand by him. There is no more primal a quest for love than wishing to be part of a wolf pack living out their lives in mated pairs with their offspring.

In a creative stroke, Jeenu is represented as a two-and-a-half-foot puppet with an adult actor, Wolf (Michael Loria), representing part of the child’s character. Fred C. Riley, a well-respected local puppet maker, built a new puppet and trained Michael Loria in its manipulation and choreography.

The staging of Wolf Play is also inventive. Morning scenes take place in a kitchen simultaneously used by both sets of parents and by Ryan. The audience knows that each is in their own home, but they weave around each other in choreographed moves. “This was exciting for me as a director,” said Elizabeth Carter (Stoop Stories), “It was like a fugue and counterpoint.”

“When I first read this play, it was a gut punch,” said director Carter. “Wolf Play is powerful and sticks with you. It makes you reevaluate how you think about children. I hope this drama will make the audience think, ‘Who is my family, and how hard am I willing to fight for them?’” said Carter.

Wolf Play runs an hour and 50 minutes without an intermission at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, through Oct. 1. Mask-wearing is encouraged but not required, except on “Masked Matinees,” Sept. 10 and Sept. 24. General admission ticket prices are $26-$46.

Tickets for those 25 years and under: $10 with discount code MADTIX. Community Tickets for those with financial hardship: $15 with discount code COMMUNITY. Shotgun offers two cinema-quality livestream performances on Sept. 14 and Sept. 21, 2023. Or catch a video on demand with closed captioning available Oct. 1-Oct. 8. There is a special haptic tour and performance for blind and low-vision patrons on Sept. 17. Reservations are encouraged. More information can be found on the Shotgun Players website.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...