Put a group of high school junior girls together and the conversations could range from anything from boys to movies to selfies, but when those girls are part of a win-now, demanding soccer team, that talk becomes serious, fast.
That’s what happens in Sarah DeLappe’s 2017 Pulitzer finalist, The Wolves, now playing at Studio Theatre through March 4, under the direction of Marti Lyons and part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
The play is about a girls’ high school club soccer team, and follows the story of a group of 16- and 17-year-old girls who have been playing the sport together for almost a decade.
“They are juniors in high school, right on the cusp of big changes in their lives,” says Katie Kleiger, who plays a character simply known as “#7.” “It follows them over a period of six different Saturdays, their game days, and it’s about them preparing for battle.”
One of the things that Lyons discussed with the cast a great deal during rehearsal was the idea that the show is reimagining the classic military film—think The Dirty Dozen—something usually dominated by older men, but now focused on these girls.
“It takes the classic story and twists it by putting it in the mouths of teenage girls,” Kleiger says.
The show has been on Kleiger’s radar for a while, and she notes that any actress under 30 who can play this age has been following the play’s progress over the last two years.
“It’s a huge hit in New York. It’s giving a very strong voice to our generation, but mostly more the generation below most of us,” she says. “It does feel close to home because we are not that much older than the girls we are playing and much of the language is very familiar.”
The actress laments that a lot of times when young females are written, even if written by a woman and the part is a central character, the role is generally going through one narrative. The beauty of DeLappe’s play is that it gives nine different perspectives on what it’s like to be a girl of this age today.
“We talk about everything in reality that these girls would be talking about, every detail you would imagine, but in the context of warrior mode,” Kleiger says. “You get this heightened sense that these girls are not just bubbly teenagers. They are really, really bad-ass and should be taken seriously despite them talking about tampons and boys. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition of these two modes these girls are in.”
Since the actresses are all over 21, with some in their upper 20s, playing the young women did present some challenges. Kleiger says she used her character description provided by DeLappe at the beginning of the run—too cool for school, sarcastic, thick eyeliner, “fuck”—to shape her character.
at Studio Theatre
closes March 11, 2018
Details and tickets
“My character in particular believes and acts like she is much older than her age. She pretends to be mature so there is a balance of bringing my own maturity to the role while also remembering what it was like to be 16, and my insecurities and all the unanswered questions bubbling underneath, hidden by the guise of being tough.”
A mistake Kleiger made was coming in too casually, because everything came so easily to #7, and Lyons spoke about how nothing comes that easily to anyone at that age—everyone plays a “part” in a sense. All the actresses in the play have bonded over their experiences as adolescents.
“The entire rehearsal room is female and it’s an incredible experience for us,” Kleiger says. “Every one of us at some point has been a 16-year-old girl so there’s a shared vocabulary and we all know what it’s like to think we know it all and constantly be questioning everything. New things are coming at you every minute and the smallest interaction could shatter you. It’s drawing upon all of our memories of being that age.”
Kleiger, who grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, did play soccer when she was younger, but switched to tennis while in high school. Some in the cast played soccer much longer, and are strong players, which helps everyone with the lingo and soccer mentality. Deb Booth, Studio’s director of design, even installed an indoor soccer turf to make the action seem more real.
“That’s been awesome for us,” Kleiger says. “We also brought in a coach and player from the University of Maryland’s soccer team, and they are coaching us, and that’s been great as I’ve been getting back into my athletic side.”
Kleiger attended the University of Minnesota/Guthrie BFA Actor Training Program. Since graduating, she’s been back and forth between the D.C. area and New York, most recently spending time in this area because of a string of three plays (The Effect at Studio and The Book of Will at Roundhouse before The Wolves).
Raised by two therapist parents, Kleiger isn’t quite sure where the inspiration to become an actress came from, but just knew it was something she wanted to do.
“This was in my bones since I was a kid,” she says. “Since I could talk, I was singing and I convinced my parents to let me audition for Sound of Music when I was six years old. Although I didn’t get in, but I’ve been pushing it further and further ever since.” She always dreamed of working at Studio, having attended the theatre many times in her youth, and can’t believe she has now worked there twice in the course of a year.
Kleiger’s hoping that teenagers come out to Studio to see The Wolves, and get inspired the way she was. “I think it’s so important that young people see this play. Girls who are 16 and 17 I think will just melt from feeling seen and heard. It will be insanely relatable,” Kleiger says. “There is a lot of cursing and it will not be something that these high school kids have not heard, but if parents are okay sending their kid to this play, I would highly recommend it.”
The show also stars Merissa Czyz, Chrissy Rose, Lindsley Howard, Sarah Turner, Jane Bernhard, Maryn Shaw, Shanta Parasuraman, Gabby Beans and Anne Bowles.