Much of the fumbling journey of growing up as a teenager is done around other teenagers, not parents or other adults, at least in my experience.
And the essence of that pubescent collective identity is at the center of playwright Sarah DeLappe’s celebrated debut The Wolves, about a pack-circle of girls shaping one another in ways they don’t yet, or may never realize, as they likely splinter off into their separate unformed destinies.
The nine girls who make up the high school indoor soccer team, the Wolves, bluntly carom off each other during a series of Saturday morning pregame warmup sessions on a strip of AstroTurf for a set ingeniously designed and lit by Debra Booth and Paul Toben, respectively.
The narrow, arena-like staging in which the audience roosts on the sidelines is the perfect POV to capture the script’s latticed, intimate beauty full of Easter egg clues for the wary and for taking in what ends up being an affecting and moving experience.
The fact that I’ve affixed five stars to this review is testament to DeLappe’s deceptively artful writing and the young cast’s sincere and up-front performances. Three-quarters of the way through it, I was thinking ‘this is a good play, it’s fun and engaging, but I don’t know why it would be shortlisted for a Pulitzer (2017),’ and then before long, imperceptibly, it crept up on me that I was witnessing something impressive and wonderful, honest and heart-rending too.
The girls are upper-middle-class suburbanites for the most part, girls like you’d run into around the more prosperous Zip codes of the DMV. Broadly speaking, they fill the stereotypes of group roles—where some express dominance and others passivity, some feel the need to stir the pot, or cut up for laughs or put others down or go along to get along.
There’s #11 (Lindsley Howard) the studious, exacting one who rectifies others’ facts; #25 (Chrissy Rose) the tomboy team captain who tries to maintain order; #13 (Sara Turner) the joker who covers up a lack of acceptance with rudeness; #2 (Merissa Czyz) the sincere, delicate one with a distressing disorder; #8 (Shanta Parasuraman) the goofy one who makes observations of the gloriously inane kind; #14 (Maryn Shaw) the pretty, demure one resigned to second fiddle; #7 (Katie Kleiger) the tough, cool one dating a college boy and #00 (Gabby Beans) the oddball.
And then there’s #46 (Jane Bernhard) the new girl and closest thing to a protagonist in the story. She lacks the socialization skills to easily fit in with the band of scrappy footballers, providing the drama’s barest whiff of a plot, but ultimately wows them with her on-field prowess.
closes March 11, 2018
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The girls stretch, they dribble, they pass the ball, all the while letting fly whatever comes into their heads, making for an animated, high-energy, often funny 90-minute wash of adolescent excitation fueled by deliciously irreverent teenage logic. This is a mostly loquacious group and they girlspeak over one another with a sing-song musicality in a lightheaded flurry of opinion, angst and teen-spirit effervescence. They dissert on a free-wheeling range of topics from the Khmer Rouge and tampons to Harry Potter and Plan B, but they mostly talk about soccer. The last game, the next game, getting noticed by a college scout, etc. These are accomplished athletes-in-training after all, and the pressure to compete is the connective source of constancy in their lives.
The play is directed with choreographed precision by Marti Lyons and each girl is drawn distinctly, though with a subtle hand, revealing surprisingly memorable characters through the exposition of what is fundamentally small talk over hip twists and forward lunges. The entire cast is solid, but personal favorite moments include the obliviousness of Bernhard’s #46, the untiring nagging of Howard’s #11, the dopey broken bird act (and headgear!) of Czyz’s #2, and any of the priceless utterances of Parasuraman’s #8.
DeLappe has been hailed for the sneaking indirection of her writing and therein lies the play’s eventual impact—the audience cruises along over the dippy, fledgling shorthand the girls share, the yaps and squeals, put downs and burns, until it’s realized that what is being witnessed is nothing less than the act of maturation in time-lapse.
There are moments of over-writerliness, but she manages to stop herself at the brink of cliché time and time again. The subject matter offers many opportunities to fall into those traps, and as the climax was becoming apparent, I thought ‘OK, here we go.’ But no—even here, DeLappe and the cast, including soccer mom Anne Bowles in a crucial part, get it just right, skirting around one of the most tempting contrivances in theater, and leaving us with a searing tableau instead.
The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe. Directed by Marti Lyons. Featuring Lindsley Howard, Chrissy Rose, Sara Turner, Merissa Czyz, Shanta Parasuraman, Jane Bernhard, Maryn Shaw, Katie Kleiger, Gabby Beans and Anne Bowles. Set design: Debra Booth. Costume design: Sarah Cubbage. Lighting design: Paul Toben. Sound design: Mikhail Fiksel. Amanda Landis is the stage manager. Presented by Studio Theatre. Reviewed by Roy Maurer.