The Wolves play hard on and off field
They are fierce, these Wolves. They march onstage without warning (or land acknowledgement), suited up in their jerseys and shorts, ready to take on the world — or at least the next opponent team in their Saturday morning indoor girls’ high school soccer league, somewhere in middle America.
In the six scenes of Sarah DeLappe’s justly celebrated debut play (a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), we never actually see the team play a match: we see a series of warmup sessions in which they work amazingly in sync, stretching and doing drills, and all the time talking, talking, talking.
About the trial of Khmer Rouge kingpin Nuon Chea (not all of them know about him: “We don’t do genocides until senior year”). About how gross it is to get your period in sync with your sister (“it’s like a mass grave in that trash can”).
About whether or not they should call each other bitches, about the goalie’s (Amaka Umeh) anxiety disorder that makes her throw up before every game, about whether #14 (Brittany Kay) is Mexican or Armenian.
You know what they don’t talk about? Boys. Makeup. Prom. OK sure, one of them (Aisha Evelyna) has a boyfriend, and another (Hallie Seline) has a meltdown when she gets a big zit. But this play bursts open preconceptions of what today’s young women are like and what they want.
Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster’s co-production for the Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre perfectly delivers the script’s frankness and intensity. The focus and precision of the nine actors playing the team is quite extraordinary: they speak complicated, overlapping dialogue (frequently there are a number of conversations going on at once) while doing deep unison stretches, running patterns over Jareth Li’s appropriately simple set (a big square of Astroturf ), and passing the ball. They maintain a strong pace and light tone with the ongoing banter, and when negative and positive emotion boils over (sometimes seemingly out of nowhere) it’s always credible. The timing of laugh lines is spot-on.
For most of the 85-minute playing time there isn’t really a central, rising drama: instead we are invited into the complex dynamic of these teammates and friends (sometimes frenemies) and introduced to their collective and individual commitment to their sport, their futures, and each other. But there is nothing sentimental in the representation of them or the bonds between them (as signalled by the way they’re referred to in the script and program — by player number, not by name). Given all this, a lateplay plot twist which prompts the arrival of an extra character (Robyn Stevan) felt to me like DeLappe faltering a bit in her convictions for the sake of dramatic convention.
No faltering conviction in any of these performances, though. Heath V. Salazar is on fire as the hilariously sarcastic #13. Rachel Cairns provides fleeting glimpses of vulnerability underneath team captain #25’s ferocious leadership. Though silent for most the play, Umeh’s #00 conveys a whole host of complex emotions and reactions. The power dynamic between Evelyna’s precocious #7 and Kay’s impressionable #14 is alive and shifting. Ruth Goodwin, Annelise Hawrylak, Ula Jurecki, and Seline are all fully focused and present in their characterizations and relationships.
Choreographed passages between the scripted scenes (movement coaching is by Sarah Doucet, who is also the costume designer) are electric to watch as dynamically lit by Li and underscored by Deanna H. Choi’s sound design and composition. All aspects of Lancaster’s production broadcast confidence, strong decisions, esprit de corps.
A+ with extra credit for smashing the Bechdel Test, you gorgeous Wolves.
The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre co-production The Wolves is a Pulitzer-nominated play about a girls' soccer team.