Wild Animals We Shou-...Oh, Too Soon?

“Wild Animals You Should Know” closed yesterday and I feel that need to pass my commentary on the show before everyone begins burning the show out of their eyes it goes into the off-Broadway vault and never comes out.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), this show will not be making any returns to the public anytime soon. It has some points worth praising, but it fell victim to a classic theater mistake…taking an interesting concept worth examining – the presence of homosexuality in a relationship between best friends in high school, as well as the Boy Scouts – and muddling the message and story down with incongruous filler.

Gideon's facial expression.
Enough said.
The show opens with Matthew (Jay Armstrong Johnson), an honors student, boy scout and soccer stud, reciting the Boy Scout’s oath while stripping for his gay, awkward best friend Jacob (Gideon Glick) via web cam. The scene continues as Matthew begins spying sexual activity between their scoutmaster Rodney (also his neighbor) with another man.

All of this is the pre-cursor to a Boy Scout trip, where Matthew’s non-outdoorsy father, Walter, and another scout dad, Larry, join the three of them on an overnight camping trip. Armed with Rodney’s secret, Matthew exploits the situation as a means of…well, that is where the already flimsy seams of the show fall apart,

The show attempts to paint each character as nuanced and complex; it is, after all, a character study. Unfortunately, it does not translate all that well; the characters uncertainty of themselves take the fruition of some questionable encounters and development. Take the narcissistic, golden boy Matthew…in spite of having everything, from good looks to a bright future, he has this unexplained need for validation. That desire is compensated by his flirtatious behavior with Jacob and Rodney. One question…why? Where does this character’s insecurities come from? Why does he treat everyone around him poorly? What are his motivations?

But probably the most disappointing aspect of Matthew is his refusal to learn and grow. Not every character needs growth to be interesting (or to make my time worthwhile), but there needs to be…something to keep me engaged. It became clear after a point that Matthew’s stubbornness comes from his narcissism and his jaded perception that he has everything and everyone figured out. All well and good; but Matthew was the same one-dimensional character as we are introduced to him. The closing scene, one where Matthew removes his clothes aware of Rodney watching from outside, mirrors the opening scene exactly. Except, this time, he is more...vulnerable? Great; thanks for your time Matt…

Oh sure, Johnson turns in a great performance (and he happens to be really nice and talented), but that is about all I can say. In the hands of a weaker actor, Matt would have no redemption value other then being a conceded, unapologetic douschebag.

As if that was not bad enough, there is a whole “side arch” regarding Walter and his frustrations with life and his marriage after being laid off from his job. I say "side arch" in quotes because it seemed to take precedent over the initial concept, not to mention is was so slow and long-winded. He has a (overly long) scene with Larry as they start knocking back some beers in the woods…a conversation as to what it means to be a man, a husband and an employee.

I guess there was supposed to be a takeaway somewhere in all of that, but I cannot remember anything that was said or if the whole arch went anywhere. Even worse, the character of Larry and Walter’s wife Marsha (Alice Ripley), were thinly written characters whose only purpose was to promote change in Walter. Sorry writers; he was nowhere as interesting or fun to watch as you thought; the whole thing played out as both a conceptual and execution disaster.

Totally normal. Totally. Totally
One thing that intrigued me the most was the character of Rodney. Jon Behlmann handled the character well with what he was given, but his character was strangely underwritten even though he was the instigator of the entire story. Despite being a homosexual, he finds pride and honor being a troop leader. According to the show (I know squat about the Boy Scouts), they shun that type of behavior. Instead of exploring Rodiney’s closeted homosexuality, why he was a troop leader or life outside of the Boy Scouts, it happened off-stage if it was not dropped entirely. Bad idea.

As far as the rest of the characters/cast, Jacob got in some funny lines, but it was basically Gideon Glick playing Gideon Glick. Maybe because the rest of the show was often times messy, I still preferred the scenes with only Matthew and Jacob because Johnson and Glick had the right chemistry of sexual tension and toxicity. In fact, their relationship was done well all things considered, as suspending my disbelief was not too hard. Let’s face it: popular Matthew and loser Jacob would never be friends. But, with Matthew’s unexplained need for appreciation, combined with Jacob’s apparent lusting for Matthew, it came together better then expected. It was an interesting relationship to watch; I’ll give it that.

As much fun as Alice Ripley can be, especially when she is in one of her moods and stares lasers at everything like she is going to burn a house down, this was not her role. Too small and too normal; I miss her as a victim of bipolar going through electric shock therapy. Ho hum…

Off to the vault we go Wild Animals…but thanks for giving us some fine Jay Armstrong Johnson scenes to hold us over until…the next time he scores a role and he has it in his contract to go topless/pantless at least once a show.

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