Theatre doesn’t have to say big things all the time; it can be entertaining and fluffy without being bad. A Room of Wolves tries to be entertaining fluff, but it misses that mark by mistaking archetypes for stereotypes, among other weaknesses.
At an unmentioned Ontario university, the final meeting of the year of the Association of Student Organizations (ASO) is going relatively uneventfully until a last-minute piece of business reveals that, due to a budget glitch, there is an extra $11, 423 in funding to be disbursed. The stakes are immediately raised as every representative wants all the money for their own cause.
There’s potential for a God of Carnage-style battle of manners and wits here, but that is missed to instead assign all the characters rigidly-defined stereotypes as their personalities, which are later contradicted for no apparent reason other than shock value or for gratuitous absurdity. The most unfortunate of these is Jacqueline, the representative for the religious organizations, whose personality more or less corresponds to the image of religious people that your rabidly atheist friend keeps trying to force on you: shallow, materialistic, hypocritical, and anti-gay, -feminist, and –climate change for no apparent reason. This wouldn’t be a problem if the stereotyping wasn’t so blatant, but the line “I don’t know if I believe in pansexuality, for me it’s right up there with astrology and the female orgasm” kind of blows that out of the water (also, I know that lots of religious women don’t think the point of sex is for pleasure, but surely they know what they know what their bodies are capable of, right?). All of the personalities are similarly layered thick with clichéd personality traits; the most egregious being Eve, the new representative for the artistic organizations, whose determination to get the money in order to exterminate the feral raccoons that have apparently been living in the rehearsal hall is hilarious on the performer’s part but surely as an arts student himself playwright Gregory-Yves Fénélon knows that a university would never let things get that bad.
There’s a lot else that seems unnecessarily forced, like the assumption that all young people, regardless of their values and life decisions, are huge potheads – there’s one moment where everyone, including the religious girl, proudly declare their near-dependence on the herb. Yes, recreational marijuana usage is more common and less stigmatized than ever in this country, but anyone who has ever interacted with young people know that not everyone does it and lots of people, even in the university-age demographic, are still pretty anti-pot. There’s also drinking (a Guatemalan tequila (?) called La Perra Loca, which I believe translates to “Crazy Bitch” in bad Spanish), and I do wonder if Yves-Fenélon has ever actually interacted with student politicians, who tend to either take their job pretty seriously or are enormous slackers (all the characters in this show seem to be on the slacker side, even Richie, the representative for the academic organizations). It’s sort of the same issues that plagued Glee after its first season: subverting of stereotypes usually leads to other stereotypes, which must be subverted in turn to keep the tone consistent. Instead, the stereotypes become the source of the humour, and the message that could have been delivered instead drowns in the unimaginative gags.
Perhaps what Yves-Fenélon meant was to instead use archetypes, basic stock characters that form the basis for a more complete character such as ‘lover,’ or ‘soldier,’ or ‘witch,’ or ‘mother.’ They can be combined with others to create and explain internal conflicts, and the sheer variety of archetypes out there gives a nearly infinite amount of possibilities. Stereotyping, however, takes the opposite approach, where a full character is reduced down to a few basic characteristics that become their entire personality – intentionally shallow and one-sided, because it’s easier to make judgements against a stereotype than a complex persona. I’m not saying that stereotyping can never work in dramatic writing, but it’s usually not the recommended approach unless you’re doing commedia dell’arte or sitcoms.
A Room of Wolves suffers from a lot of issues, particularly its relationship with reality, but it has a strong enough foundation in its initial premise that it could be rebuilt if one had the time or motivation.
A Room of Wolves
A Blood Moon production
Written by Greg Yves-Fenélon
At the Courtroom (BYOV A)