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There’s a dirty secret about reuniting with old friends: It’s fraught with just as much anxiety as excitement. Will you still be close? What if seeing them illuminates all the ways you’ve changed? And as a cruel addendum, the more you plan and the harder you try, the less likely you are to find that easy repartee.
In The Wolfe Twins, currently in its world premiere run at Studio Theatre, playwright Rachel Bonds complicates one such reunion even further. Siblings Dana (Birgit Huppuch) and Lewis (Tom Story) are attempting to bridge their distance while traveling together in Italy. (Vacations bring that added pressure of needing to maximize every last minute, too.) Less than a year apart in age, the two were inseparable as children and moved to the Big Apple together. In her early twenties, Dana returned to suburban Texas and started a family while Lewis still lives in Manhattan with his partner Patrice.
Much to Dana’s dismay, Lewis finds that ease of chemistry she craves with another traveler in their Roman bed and breakfast, Raina (Jolly Abraham). Raina is the kind of effortlessly cool artist whose awkward stage occurred when she grew boobs before everyone else, and Abraham draws out the warmth in a character that could have easily been a plot device. All of the play’s action takes place in the B&B’s common room, as they sit, scope out maps, and drink huge amounts of coffee and wine. Italian innkeeper Alex (Silas Gordon Brigham) provides directions and acts as a sounding board against which the other characters expose their weaknesses.
The most fascinating part about The Wolfe Twins is that, by the time people actually say what they mean, they’ve already conveyed it through the way they execute mundane tasks. The extension of a dinner invitation, the healthy pouring of a glass of wine, the circling of a location on a map—-Bond and director Mike Donahue find the force and humor underpinning these seeminly meaningless actions.
In an extraordinary, squirm-worthy drunk scene, all of these unsaid sentiments make their way to the surface. Huppuch, Story, and Abrahams are convincingly drunk without a ham-factor, capturing those moments when conversations take an unavoidable turn, sucking all the air out of a room. After the force of that scene, the play loses some of its momentum as it tries to pick up the pieces the characters so satisfyingly smashed.
None of the actors in The Wolfe Twins are weak links, but the show belongs to Huppuch. Making Dana likable is a huge challenge, and Huppuch nails the smile of a person who isn’t very happy and the laugh of someone who uses it as filler. This is a character who wants the trip to go well so badly that she won’t even admit when she doesn’t like a pastry she orders. It’s just as heartbreaking as it is easy to see why Lewis has difficulty dealing with her façade.
The common area is filled with sleek white decorations and red accents, and in a very effective bit of set design, the audience can hear dialogue in the hallway leading outdoors and to the rooms. Set and costume designer Dane Laffrey nails the outfits, especially Dana’s turquoise windbreaker and the passport holder around her neck. These small details round out the humanity of characters who already feel too real for comfort.
The Wolfe Twins is the first play produced through Studio’s new commissioning program, and is onstage through Nov. 2 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. $25, available online and at the box office. 202.332.3300.
Photo by Igor Dmitry