PORT TOWNSEND — It’s getting hot in here. Partly that’s due to the apartment radiator that won’t turn off, but mostly it’s the talk among the tenants. We have the single woman and the single man, we have the restless couple up on the high floor and the neighbors from Norway and Nicaragua, not to mention the carpenter in coveralls and cowboy boots.
All wonder what the future holds in “Wolf at the Door,” the comedy making its world premiere at Key City Public Theatre.
The opener for the company’s 60th anniversary season, “Wolf” runs just three weeks, today through April 28 at the snug Key City Playhouse, 419 Washington St. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays with 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees.
Tickets to Thursday and Sunday performances of “Wolf at the Door” are $24 while Fridays and Saturdays are $29 — except two pay-what-you-wish shows. These, sponsored by the Port Townsend Arts Commission, are at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 15 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 19.
These tenants have a new landlord — a deep-voiced specter we never see — who promises to modernize the building, making it safer and snazzier. Trouble is, the people in the rent-controlled units are starting to disappear. It looks a lot like the landlord is culling the types he doesn’t want, while ghettoizing all of the Norwegians on the seventh floor.
Enter Tina, portrayed by Port Townsend’s Aba Kiser. She’s ready to fight back. She invites her neighbors to her humble place, where they just might form a tenants’ rights group. They’ve got to do something, and fast.
What they do is reveal a hodgepodge of life stories, and their hopes in spite of it all.
“Wolf at the Door” was written by Richard Dresser, the nationally known playwright who enjoys a strong relationship with Key City. This year’s PlayFest, the March showcase of new works, marked the New York- and New Jersey-based playwright’s third stay in Port Townsend.
He brought “Wolf” for staged readings with artistic director Denise Winter who, along with Key City’s actors, gave the play one more workout before its debut.
In an email to the Peninsula Daily News, Dresser recalled this process, adding why Port Townsend is his choice for the world premiere.
“Denise and the actors had a wealth of sharp ideas and observations,” he said, “and of course just hearing the play reveals so much of what is and isn’t working.
“Much of my work was observing how the scenes were playing, and seeing how tight I could make them — which sometimes means simply eliminating any words that aren’t absolutely essential.”
Winter “has a great handle on my plays. So first time out I wanted to stage [‘Wolf’] with a director I trust, good actors and smart audiences,” he wrote.
For her part, Winter figures this play is what the community could use right about now: “comedy, comedy, comedy,” she said.
“Wolf” confronts social ills, from gentrification to discrimination to lying by the man in charge. It does this not only with an economy of words, but also of cast members. Six actors play 12 roles, making for lightning-speed switches in costume and demeanor.
“It’s a fast-moving, highly populated, mad world,” Dresser said. It is also, he added, a look into our ongoing struggle to connect and get along. Somehow.
Kiser, seen last year in Key City’s “Murder Ballad,” this time plays Tina as well as April, a woman who in many ways is Tina’s opposite.
“I was excited about playing two characters,” she said, “trying to establish them as completely different people within the same world.”
Kiser calls this “theater gymnastics,” marveling at the agility in her fellow cast members.
Dillon Porter, who costarred with Kiser in “Murder Ballad,” plays “Wolf’s” immigrant Garth and sexy repairman Sean.
Key City Public Theatre artistic apprentice Brendan Chambers plays the CIA agent-like Phil and the full-of-longing Jason, partner to April.
Versatile Port Townsend actress Michelle Hensel plays the widow Gertrude and the activist Vanessa.
Jade Evans, seen in “Our Leading Lady” at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, and “A Conversation with Hattie McDaniel” at Olympic Theatre Arts in Sequim, makes her Key City debut as the elegant Quaneshna and the guileless Mandy.
Los Angeles-based Chuck Filipov is the one actor who plays only one character, and he does it to the hilt: divorcé Keith, Tina’s romantic interest.
Given the subject matter and the landlord’s treatment of his tenants, isn’t this Dresser’s take on current national politics? And won’t that make “Wolf” a bitter pill for theatergoers who might want a bit of escape?
“It was triggered by events of the past year,” the playwright said — yet “there’s nothing in the play that ties it to this specific moment in history.”
The story is timeless, he said: A diverse group of people — thrown together in the same apartment building — jostle their way into community.
To cap the summary, Dresser wielded his wit.
“Anyone hoping for a sanctimonious, earnest, self-important, preachy play about social ills,” he said, “will be sorely disappointed and should demand a refund.”