Large animals loom in Steve Yockey’s new comedy Large Animal Games at Impact Theatre, although the real ones — a Spanish bull and African gazelle — have an absent presence. The real bull is a gorgeous Lothario named Miguel (Roy Landaverde), who falls prey to sweet, matronly Rose (Elissa Dunn) when she shows up at a correo del toro in his pueblo. Rose recounts the story to her friend Nicole (Cindy Im) over a bottle of Jameson’s after coming home with a new prize in tow. At that point, it’s hard to tell who got gigoloed: Rose is clearly a woman on the hunt, and she describes Miguel in terms that a naturalist might use to depict an antelope. But then Miguel emerges, clad in a red towel that swishes around like a cape, freshly showered from a TransAtlantic flight that he took on Rose’s dime, hungrily eyeing Nicole. He’s an animal, indeed, but also a willing participant in his own exploitation.
We are all animals, according to Yockey. And as such, we’re enslaved by our primal instincts. The characters in Large Animal Games all desire intimacy or fulfillment, but they have different — sometimes bizarre — ways of seeking it. Rose and Nicole have such repressed female libido that they’ll willingly act out a sex fantasy before thinking it all the way through. Spoiled Alicia (Marissa Keltie) strives for class privilege and financial security. Rose’s roommate Valerie (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) sees big-game hunting as a form of empowerment. Miguel wants whatever he can get. It’s the women who do all the desiring and manipulating here. They stock rifles, stack their ammo, and brag to friends about their exploits. The men, meanwhile, seem to enjoy being feminized. Alicia’s boyfriend Stan (Timothy Redmond) wears women’s lingerie beneath his boy clothes. Miguel happily prances around in a towel and says sweet nothings in Spanish, allowing Rose and Nicole to derive pleasure from objectification. Jimmy (Jai Sahai), the store clerk of a women’s lingerie boutique that becomes a central motif in the script, serves as both a fashion consultant and one-way spiritual guide.
At seventy minutes, the play is quick, clean, and a little unsatisfying, but that’s probably the point. It weaves three storylines around the theme of hunting and desiring (i.e., animal games) amid a hodge-podge of gender symbols. The lingerie store, as envisioned by director Melissa Hillman and scenic designer Sarah Coykendall, is a weird liminal zone where characters act out their fantasies. Its walls are purple and white; its boudoir contains a rack of identical scarlet frocks, dyed the same blood-lusty red as Miguel’s toreador bath towel. Salesclerk Jimmy is an aggressively femme St. Peter, with his omnipresent tape measure and constant volley of customer service pleasantries. Everyone enters that space with his own motivations: Rose wants to trap a man, Alicia wants to look like an expensive doily, Stan wants to imagine himself being looked at.
Then there’s the gazelle, another symbol that Valerie encounters on her Kenyan safari. Facing the barrel of Valerie’s gun, it seems tender and fragile — certainly less barbaric than the human trying to kill it. Since Valerie is coded as the play’s most androgynous character (she wears baggy safari clothes and carries a phallic weapon), some might see the gazelle as a lost “feminine side” coming back to haunt her.
In that short window of time, the stories resolve to varying degrees. Valerie has the most interesting trajectory, though her character leaves the most to be desired because most of her story is filtered through monologues, rather than acted out. Rose is by far the best character, mostly owing to Dunn’s terrific interpretation. Dunn plays Rose as one of those congenitally maternal gals who hits middle age before the end of her twenties. She easily gets seduced by the idea of being useful to somebody — even a low-life Spaniard whose language she doesn’t understand. Alicia and Stan’s story has the most potential and the least payoff. Their compromise at the end is more a Band-Aid solution than a genuine reconciliation. You realize, moreover, that he’s not fast enough for her. The real Alicia would never go for a dude who relied on women’s underwear for his “swagger.”
For a company of modest means, Impact came up with a pretty compelling interpretation of Large Animal Games. Its stage doesn’t allow for real set changes, so most scenes took place with those purple and white lingerie store walls in the background — which actually gave the play a sense of continuity. The play’s only real deficiencies lay in the script proper, which left a lot of questions unanswered — like what will become of Alicia’s relationship with Stan, or Rose and Nicole’s friendship, or Valerie and Nicole’s roommate relationship, or Valerie’s femininity. Perhaps Yockey meant to keep things open-ended because seldom in life do we experience complete fulfillment — and desire is such a malleable thing, anyway. Or maybe he wanted to leave a large animal in the room.