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REVIEW: ‘Wild Animals You Should Know’ studies a sociopath

wildanimals112811_optBY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW

Newcomer Thomas Higgins shows promise as a writer in his “Wild Animals You Should Know,” although his intermittently absorbing comedy-drama does not achieve its potential.

Currently on view at the Lucille Lortel Theater, the 100-minute play cultivates several related topics on a contemporary suburban landscape but does not develop any of them sufficiently to cause much of an impression.

Briefly, Higgins’ story centers on teenaged Matthew, a narcissistic charmer who eventually is revealed to be a nasty piece of work. An overnight Boy Scout trip with his milquetoast father proves ruinous for Matthew’s nice scoutmaster and leads to trouble between Matthew’s stressed-out parents.

Father-son relationships, homoerotic teen friendships, the values of the Boy Scouts and men coping none too well with middle-aged crisis are among the play’s interesting themes, but ultimately the piece provides at best only an indistinctly-drawn portrait of a tarnished golden boy and his clueless dad.

If the playwright does not deliver a fully-developed work, he usually manages to hold viewer interest with his quick, often humorous dialogue that is capably performed by director Trip Cullman’s actors.wild2animals112811_opt

Sexually teasing his best friend Jacob and similarly baiting the scoutmaster, Jay Armstrong Johnson’s handsome Matthew slowly turns ugly. John Behlmann gracefully portrays the idealistic Boy Scout leader. Patrick Breen gives the worrywart dad a deepening sense of guilt about not measuring up as a father or as a husband. While Daniel Stewart Sherman is on the money as a beer-swigging neighbor, an over-aged Gideon Glick strains to depict convincingly the quirky Jacob.

Always a pleasure to observe, the husky-voiced Alice Ripley makes the forthright most of her thankless role as Matthew’s sensible mother.

MCC Theater’s production is typically first-rate. Designer Andromache Chalfant provides several trim settings that benefit from the indoor-outdoor lighting patterns designed by David Weiner.

Not so much “The Bad Seed” as “The Rotten Bud,” Higgins’ character study of an incipient sociopath has its merits but needs further expansion and a stronger conclusion to satisfy completely as drama.

“Wild Animals You Should Know” continues through Dec. 11 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., New York. Call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.mcctheater.org.

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