Before discussing Fringe Fest 2018 offering “WOLFCRUSH (a queer werewolf play,)” — a torrid tale of lust, cannibalism, bondage, gay werewolf sex and Mariska Hargitay — it is important to know something about its production company, On the Rocks.
“We can pretty much guarantee we are the gayest company producing the gayest show in this year’s festival,” said Haygen-Brice Walker, one of the company’s two founders.
“Elaina [Di Monaco] and I started On the Rocks for two reasons: We’re in love, and we weren’t seeing enough bold, in-your-face, risky, queer theater happening in Philly. We weren’t seeing ourselves onstage. And we wanted to change that.”
Stuff such as their Dead Teenager Trilogy at Fringe 2015; “Birdie’s Pit Stop (and the tribe of queers who fucked everything up)” at Fringe 2016; and “THE GROOM’S A FAG, THE BRIDE’S A CUNT, THE BEST MAN’S A WHORE, AND THE MAIDEN OF HONOR (JUST) HUNG HERSELF IN THE CLOSET” at Fringe 2017.
“I think the first step is getting more queer characters onstage,” said Walker. “We need more queer humans living queer lives and having lots and lots of queer sex. I cannot think of a single show that I’ve seen recently in Philly that has had a gay sex scene.”
This writer can certainly recall implied gay sex in the Arden’s recent “Fun Home,” but certainly nothing ardent, hungry or steamy.
“I just think it is made into something taboo, and it doesn’t have to be,” Walker added. “All the gay stories that are being told onstage are pretty mainstream. I’m trying to put some underrepresented gay voices onstage and tell some wild underground gay stories. The plays that we make aren’t going to get produced anywhere in Philly. Theaters have boards and subscribers and donors to please. We don’t have any of that. Therefore, if I write a play where there’s full-on bareback werewolf sex, we’re gonna make it happen.”
Writers-producers-directors Walker and Di Monaco (He mostly writes and she mostly directs, but the best idea always wins) developed the script for “WOLFCRUSH” over the course of two years, with drafts that just grew “sexier, more violent, bloodier and wilder” with time and individual iterations.
“That’s what the Fringe is for,” said Walker.
This story weaves in cannibalism, small towns, big secrets, first times, sloppy seconds and all the lies we tell ourselves so we can sleep at night, featuring werewolves. The overt qualities of the legend of the werewolf — everything from the wolf bane blooming, its necessary startling transformations, blood lust, issues of control and hidden needs and desires — speak to something subtler in the subtext.
“I grew up as a gay Puerto Rican in a really shitty part of Virginia,” said Walker. “At 4 years old, I knew I was gay as blazes. In high school, when I started experimenting with my sexuality, I remember all the rules and parameters that my partners and I had about sex. All of my partners in high school were also men of color and we established so many rules that made what we were doing ‘not gay.’ If we didn’t kiss then it wasn’t gay, it was just a hand job. If we didn’t cuddle after, then it wasn’t gay, it was just casual oral sex. Stuff like that. ‘WOLFCRUSH’ is about all of those rules and navigating queerness while living in a shitty, conservative place.”
When Walker considered the rules and games they used to play, “I couldn’t help but think of consent. And being a huge horror-movie fan, I’m obsessed with werewolves. There’s something sexy about them. There’s also a lot wrapped up in consent within werewolf mythology. Something you can’t control is literally taking over your body and making you do things that you don’t want to do. In a lot of ways, that’s what being gay felt like in Disputanta, Virginia. Something was taking over my body and I had to figure out how to resist it. Or go with it and become a gay werewolf. I chose the latter.”
So does “WOLFCRUSH.”
“WOLFCRUSH (a queer werewolf play)” runs Sept. 13-22 at Vox Populi, 319 N. 11th St.