High school kids in a militarized Manhattan


By Davida Singer

High school couples and their relationships are set against the backdrop of a harsh, militarized Manhattan in “which wolf is which: an after school special”, by downtown author, Sam Marks. This dark comedy – at HERE through September- is Marks’ third produced work. After graduating from NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing, he began writing several years ago, as an actor with the popular Bat Theater Company at the Flea. A native New Yorker, who grew up in the East and West Village and now lives in Brooklyn, the playwright, 27, refers to himself as “a stressed out ball of anxiety”, and seems to have a penchant for writing about “very current” life in the City, and “how the urban climate here relates to the general political texture of New York.”

DS: How does “which wolf is which” describe today’s New York?

SM: It’s really about the post-9/11 era, and takes place a little beyond now. It’s a time when there are more soldiers on the streets, and budget cuts are even more severe than before. This play is really much darker than my past works. I started writing it at the beginning of this year for the company I’m now involved with-Partial Comfort- a spinoff of Bats. I’d just seen Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away”, and it opened my eyes to how things can expand from something small. And it was only 50 minutes long.

DS: How did that expansion idea inspire your piece?

SM: In “which wolf is which”, the character Toots, a Black high school kid, has stolen a bike – a petty crime – but an army has been unleashed in the City, and he sees a piece on the news about a so-called pack of Black kids running wild, so everything is distorted and out of proportion. There’s this idea that people are being hunted down in a very general way, and the people doing the hunting don’t care “which wolf is which”. It also brings up the question of what and who is really a wolf. The essence of the piece is largely about how survival in New York is becoming increasingly difficult, and what’s being cultivated isn’t compassion or educational values, but rather predatory ones instead.

DS: Would you call this a political play?

SM: Yes, I think it’s political. I wasn’t a political person before 9/11, but I’ve gotten more so in the past few years. My goal is political, but you have to make it interesting to watch. The characters are very New York-edgy and sarcastic. We’ve got some hip-hop music and the look is really dark, but vibrant. People will definitely not be bored. They’ll be sucked right in. I hope they see the connection between the militarism of New York – the decreased quality of life here – and the responsibility for them to be informed.

DS: What’s been informative for you as the writer?

SM: I started writing this at the beginning of 2003, with Partial Comfort – a spin-off company of the Bats. Since then, there’s been a lot of rewriting and cutting – with the excellent help of my director, Robert O’Hara, and that’s been an education. In general, what I love about playwriting is that it’s satisfying to be able to control the content of what’s going on in theater. As a playwright, you have more fundamental input than actors. But being a writer has really made me appreciate acting, especially here. The two have really informed each other.