The Wolves play hard on and off field

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - Karen Fricker is a Toronto-based the­atre critic and a free­lance con­trib­u­tor for the Star. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @KarenFricker2 KAREN FRICKER

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.

CROW’S THE­ATRE

The How­land Com­pany and Crow’s The­atre co-pro­duc­tion The Wolves is a Pulitzer-nom­i­nated play about a girls' soc­cer team.

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