WOLF AT THE DOOR, at Cafe Voltaire. Eric Ehn's eerily subversive take on archetypal American small-town life brings to mind Emily's futile, maudlin attempt to relive one perfect day in Thornton Wilder's Our Town: here a telepathic family marked for tragedy strives to reach a simple perfection it can't begin to approach. But unlike Wilder's quaint, idyllic town of soda fountains and white weddings, Ehn's Seneca, New York, is characterized by soup kitchens, shitty construction jobs, and homeless shelters.
Ehn's depiction of a family's struggle to stay above water while clinging to impossible fantasies is both jarring and fascinating, overflowing with inventive images, whimsical storybook flourishes, and the kind of poetic sensibility that's all but disappeared from naturalistic American theater: he employs a nonlinear dreamlike structure, language evocative of both contemporary talk and Native American folktales, and an almost cubist sense of shifting perspective.
Would that Cynthia Croot's intelligent, occasionally inspired production of Wolf at the Door were up to the challenges of the script. Though she makes great use of the claustrophobic Cafe Voltaire, the performances she coaxes from her cast are often studied and flat. With a few exceptions, the performers seem unable to grasp Ehn's poetry, rendering much of Croot's clever staging moot and causing the play to seem more baffling and peculiar than complicated and inspired.