Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Legends Of: The Werewolf
The play uses a mixture of documentary-style delivery and theatrical storytelling and is framed as an episode of a new version of the fictional TV show "Legends Of ..." The show's host Dr. Edward Halsingland tries to make some sense of what happened to the show's former host, Jorgen Ulvsen, who disappeared during a taping of the TV show. Halsingland tells us that tonight he will finish that missing episode, which focuses on werewolves, while also trying to piece together what happened with Ulvsen. Using a combination of video footage and archival photos, we learn about the legend of the werewolf, and Halsingland tells of how folk tales told of the creature and also how the many films about werewolves influenced pop culture. As he quickly traces the creature's history over the centuries and across the continents, there are interruptions from Halsingland's constituents around the globe who chime in on the werewolf legend and also on the search for Ulvsen.
With many stories in the script that recount early, detailed examples about werewolves, Heckman clearly spent a lot of time researching the subject. He has found a way to make the source material manageable without it getting too bogged down or coming across as some kind of boring educational seminar. He also uses the video interruptions to provide an urgency in discovering what happened to Ulvsen. However, some of these video pieces that help explain what happened to the show's former host aren't long enough or fully fleshed out, so they don't provide enough information to connect everything, while others that delve into the werewolf myth are too long. Fortunately, you can still piece most of the backstory together and the ending is a lot of fun.
Heckman is a skilled actor and his work here is very good. As he tells the stories he becomes the various characters in them, with the keen use of accents and different body postures. He also makes the material interesting and fresh. While the majority of the cast is seen on the various videos in the show, Keath Hall is very intriguing as Ulvsen, and Gustavo A. Flores is charming and fun as the studio crew member who briefly interacts with Halsingland.
Director Mary Way does a very good job in staging the piece to ensure there is plenty of movement and that the photographs and video segments are well incorporated. Heckman's impressive set design is fairly simple but features a cornucopia of eerie props and set embellishments. Peter Bish's sound design and Stacey Walston's lighting deliver an ever-changing assortment of suspenseful noises and lighting effects. The video designs by Colin Carter work quite well in depicting various types of video elements, from washed out and unprofessional looking "lost footage" to bright "live" cell phone video calls.
With a mixture of intriguing folk tales and folklore, plus the addition of video elements, Legends Of: The Werewolf is educational but also an entertaining exploration of the werewolf myth and the search for the former host of the show. While I had some small issues with a few parts of the play and wish it had been brought together more, with Heckman's skilled acting contributions it makes for a worthy playwrighting debut and a fun, spooky theatrical outing.
Legends Of: The Werewolf runs through October 15, 2021, at Taliesin West, 12345 N Taliesin Drive, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit swshakespeare.org or call 480-644-6500.
Written by Beau Heckman