Monday, September 12, 2016

THE WOLVES: Eavesdropping on the Insular World of a High School Girls' Soccer Team

Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez

Wolves travel in packs of 6-12, coincidentally about the same number of players it takes to make up a soccer team such as the group of “fierce, fearless, female” high school girls depicted in Sarah DeLappe’s compelling and insightful new play, The Wolves, a production of The Playwrights Realm at the Duke Theater.  

Not a lot happens during the course of the play, at least not in terms of traditional plot development, but what a rich portrait it gives us of the lives of these suburban teenagers as they get together for pre-game warm-ups over the course of the soccer season. 

This is a play that needs to be listened to as much as watched as the girls fret over the competition, share gossip, and worry about the state of the world. The playwright has a great ear for the way girls talk to each other. Take, for instance, the opening scene, in which the nine members of the team are spread out across the indoor soccer field doing their stretching exercises. As is typical of such large groups, there are two separate conversations going on simultaneously at either side of the room. One is about the relative merits of menstrual pads and tampons, and the other is about atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (a carry-over from a social studies lesson, perhaps). 

In this little bit, you can see the micro and macro perspectives of the girls, who are both self-absorbed and caught up in a growing understanding of the world-at-large.  No one dwells on any one topic for very long; they are, after all, getting ready to go out there and play soccer. But if you are attentive, you’ll pick up on their misconceptions, naiveté, blossoming sexuality, peer pressure, and competitiveness as you spend time eavesdropping on the moments they are willing to share among teammates who are not quite friends.  

Since all of the girls are in uniform, most are referred to only by the numbers on their jerseys. And while some stand out as individuals  the alpha wolves in the pack   we are meant to think about them largely within their collective identity as a team. This perspective is sadly reinforced near the end of the play when one of their members has been in an automobile accident and disappears from the action. Possibly slightly embarrassed, audience members are likely to spend some time trying to figure out who it is by accounting for the players’ numbers.  

There are a couple of places where situations feel a little forced. One of the players, for example, a home-schooled girl the others don’t know very well, lives with her mom in a yurt. That unlikely suburban housing situation seems to be a set-up for jokes that mix up “yurt” with “yogurt.” But for the most part, both the dialog and the well-choreographed exercises seem fully authentic. The late appearance of an adult, a distraught soccer mom, arrives as a spell-breaker, an intrusion into the insular world created by the team.  

Anyone hankering for a fully plotted play with a clearly delineated conflict and resolution may be disappointed by the unwavering attention on the girls' interactions. But the consistently strong cast under Lila Neugebauer’s sharply focused direction does a splendid job of opening the door on the world of these teenage girls, who show themselves to be pretty fierce and fearless indeed. 

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  

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