Matt Mercurio and Anthony S. Goolsby (Photos by Casey G. Ford Photography)

Theatrical Outfit is presenting the Southeastern premiere of Chicago playwright Ike Holter’s “The Wolf at the End of the Block,” directed by Associate Artistic Director Addae Moon. The mystery-thriller runs through April 24.

The Chicago Tribune has called the Rightlynd Saga, Mr. Holter’s series of plays, “one of the most significant literary achievements in modern-day Chicago.” Based on the current play, that assessment may be a tad hyperbolic; however, the jury is still out.

Chicago’s fictional 51st ward is Mr. Holter’s Rightlynd: a neighborhood of abandoned storefronts, crumbling apartment buildings, lots of dark alleys and a fair share of crime.

In this murky, “neo-noir” play a Chicagoan named Abe (Matt Mercurio) is seeking justice after being attacked late at night behind a boarded-up bar, possibly by a policeman. Abe is Latin American, and it may have been a hate crime. His face has been bloodied, and he confers with Nunley (Anthony S. Goolsby), who owns the restaurant where Abe works; and also his sister, Miranda (Erika Miranda).

Maria Rodriguez-Sager and Matt Mercurio

We don’t learn many details about any of these people; and we’re not quite sure who to trust. In fact the issue of trust, or mistrust, becomes a paramount motif in the piece. A perfect example is Frida (Maria Rodriguez-Sager), an investigative reporter who talks more like an attorney than a reporter. Is she really trying to get at the truth, or does she have motives of her own? Ms. Rodriguez-Sager, whose acting has clarity and power, makes Frida a compelling figure onstage.

In “Macbeth,” the title character famously says, “Nothing is but what is not.” Macbeth says he can only think of things that are not real—yet. From the opening of the play, Mr. Holter has the audience wondering—what is the truth?

While we’re wondering, we’re often moving in a dark, back-alley sort of world. The ambience thrusts us into a “cannot be good, cannot be ill” (“Macbeth” again) state of mind.

The opening lines of the play are riddled with ominous circumlocutions; for a while I couldn’t figure out who was accusing (or defending) whom. I only knew we were in the middle of the night and mischief was afoot.

Anthony S. Goolsby and Mark Kincaid

One startling scene occurs toward the end in a Chicago bar when Nunley finds himself drinking and chatting with a pleasant enough white guy named James (Mark Kincaid) who may be a police officer. James may know more than he’s saying about the attack that starts the play—a lot more. Mr. Kincaid manages to imbue the scene with a sort of smarmy charm—which makes you think that he probably is the guilty cop. But maybe he’s not. (Nothing is but what is not…)

Actually, I’m not even sure “The Wolf” is a play; it’s more like a tone poem of impending mayhem. But I know that the actors—all of them—save the day. I haven’t said enough about Mr. Goolsby, Mr. Mercurio (who projects an interesting vulnerability) or Ms. Miranda—but they are all first-rate.

That ambience we spoke of could not have happened without scenic designer Seamus Bourne or lighting designer Toni Sterling.

“The Wolf at the End of the Block” may or may not be your usual cup of tea—but while you’re watching it, I doubt if you can look away.

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Manning Harris

Manning Harris is the theatre critic for Atlanta Intown.