The great strength of The Wolves, the debut play by Sarah DeLappe now playing in an extended run at TheaterWorks, directed by Eric Ort, is the freshness and believable spontaneity of its cast, playing a group of young women in their mid-teens. As an indoor-soccer team during a winter “somewhere in suburban America,” the nine actors, with great immediacy, present a loose collective that at times jells into a team and at times becomes a group at war within itself.
The dialogue, often overlapping and sometimes overheard among them, is almost defiantly immature, as though speech is a condition of existence that must be exercised, no matter what is said. The girls joust with words and console with words and flatter and belittle with words, and their nervous energy—we see them most often during warm-ups before a game—is infectious. We lean in to catch the emphases, to find out who is up and who is down and who is admired and who is not accepted.
The idea that our social interactions take place on a “playing-field” is not new, but DeLappe’s play makes that metaphor feel more earned than it might be. As players of soccer, the team has its wins and losses, but as young women playing together, and growing up together, the team faces challenges that have nothing to do with sports and everything to do with personality. The old adage, “there is no ‘I’ in team” asserts that the individual should be subsumed by the collective purpose of the team. DeLappe’s play looks at how the tensions of individual identity shape any common experience.
One person is very smart, another is not so bright; one person comes from a traditional family but has little sense of the world beyond her town, another doesn’t know her father but as traveled all over the world and lives in a yurt; one is Armenian-American, another thought the latter girl was Mexican; one is dating a male college student, another is probably gay; one may have an eating disorder, another makes jokes about such things. The fact that the team is called the Wolves is indicative. They are a more-or-less loyal pack but there’s some ambiguity about what it takes to be alpha.
Most of the action—the games, an injury, a seduction gone awry that might well be date-rape, a death—takes place offstage. Onstage, all we have to go on is what is said and not said, and how. The girls are usually forthright so it’s not too hard to follow what they’re thinking, but, even so, there are many causes of anxiety that surface now and then without ever being quite addressed. A dominant tension, for instance, is between #7 (Olivia Hoffman), the self-possessed “striker,” and #25 (Emily Murphy), the team captain. The tension is not resolved, merely tabled by events that occur. Other plot points, such as #2 (Carolyn Cutillo)’s tendency to concussions, may simply be a “red herring” for those who assume tragedy must befall in one way or another.
The fact that tragedy does befall will be deemed by some viewers a necessary element of these girls’ lives, by others an event imposed by the playwright for the sake of gravitas. The way in which the event is handled puts the viewer in the position of trying to piece together what happened. All becomes clear, yet the device seems an excessively motivated way to extract more importance from the conversations that occur late in the play. It’s as if, rather than let the disparities among the teammates create drama in some fashion that would be more organic to the nature of their activity—at one point, for instance, we see how talent scouts show interest in only a few—a kind of negative deus ex machina determines that one of the players must be sacrificed for the sake of greater cohesion. Don’t all differences seem less glaring in the light of loss?
Megan Byrne as “a soccer mom” is the only adult in the play and she appears very late, in a scene that she handles quite well but that seems more than a little de trop. The effect is to underline, again and again, that the world outside the bubble of the team is fraught with peril—a callous boy, a bad driver, a hungover coach, a hard-to-please talent scout, and a mother all alone in her trauma. Against such things the team is no sure buffer, but it’s better than nothing. Seeing these young women learn that is the main game in The Wolves.
By Sarah DeLappe
Directed by Eric Ort
Set Design: Mariana Sanchez; Costume Design: Blair Gulledge; Lighting Design: Rob Denton; Sound Design: Karin Graybash; Wig Design: Leah Loukas; Casting: Erica Jensen (CSA)/Calleri Casting; Assistant Director: Taneisha Duggan; Production Manager: Bridget Sullivan; Stage Manager: Kate J. Cudworth
Megan Byrne, Rachel Caplan, Carolyn Cutillo, Karla Gallegos, Olivia Hoffman, Déa Julien, Shannon Keegan, Emily Murphy, Claire Saunders, Caitlin Zoz
TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
October 5-November 5, 2017; extended to November 10
This post was originally published in the New Haven Review on October 21, 2017 and is being reposted with permission.
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This post was written by Donald Brown.
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