There is a Korean saying that goes “Naturally, the arm folds inwards.”
It means, you will tend to fight for your family, back your pack, defend your bloodline, over mostly anything and anyone else.
— The Wolf, in WOLF PLAY
As proverbs go, it’s one that cuts across cultures. You may be more familiar with the version that goes “blood is thicker than water.” In any case, humans and other pack animals have survived for millennia by creating and enforcing strong familial ties, keeping close to those who belong, and keeping outsiders away.
All the chaos of the play stems from conflict around who belongs in — who is protected by — family.
Jeenu’s Korean family of origin opened their arms wide and released Jeenu into the unknown.
He became part of Peter and Katie’s family, until they had a biological child. When Katie folded her arm inwards, there was only room for the baby. It didn’t include Jeenu, and they sent him to a new family.
When Robin’s brother Ryan folds his arm inwards, it holds Robin, their mother, and Ash. Jeenu’s presence threatens his relationship with each of the women — with Ash’s concentration as a boxer, with Robin’s deference to him, with his position of privilege as the “good son” who stands between his mother and his disappointing sister.
Robin’s folded arm holds Ash, Ryan, and a child-shaped hole — until Jeenu arrives and replaces Ryan in the inner circle. (“I choose my son. I choose my wife. Over you. Always.”) Later, as her mother re-establishes contact, her folded arm holds Jeenu and her mother as Ash stands by.
With Ryan alienated from his sister, mother, and boxing protege, and Peter alienated from his wife, baby, and adopted son, the two men find each other — their arms fold inwards on the Family of Men.
Ash‘s folded arm holds the ring and her pro debut until Jeenu arrives, and then her path eventually leads to finding Jeenu and Robin in the center. Jeenu tells her, “Wolves don’t let their family’s asses be whupped. I have to back my pack.”
When Peter first folded his arm inwards, he didn’t think there was room for Katie, the baby, and Jeenu, but comes to find that “maybe we changed the wrong thing.” And in the end, it was true: there wasn’t room for everyone, and he folds his arm only around Jeenu.
Jeenu and Wolf hold onto each other — they are each other’s only sure things.
The arm folds inwards, fiercely.