Imagine a mass of humans in a great hubbub and babble of conversation. It could be the House of Representatives before the gavel sounds, or the nave of a church in the moment before services commence. The conversations ricochet off the walls and intersect with each other. They could be about the Khmer Rouge, for example, or about the moral implications of punishing someone for a crime he committed half a century ago. Or about tampons. One person is sick; another person is lonely; a third person is cruel; and the audience tries to find its way, as audiences have done since the beginning of time.
Now layer this task with additional confusions. We are not at Church, or in Congress, but with another group who are on a mission: the Wolves, an indoor soccer team of teenage girls. These wolves are doubly in transition: as adolescents, they are capable of posing for ridiculous photos with orange slices in their mouths, and also of bearing children. As females, they are stepping into roles undergoing epoch-making transitions.
From the initial chaos of the opening scene, where the team tries to grapple with the story of an elderly Khmer Rouge leader who has been captured and bound over for trial while at the same time discussing tampons and the drinking habits of their coach, the story eventually evolves to an intense examination of the girls who make up the team: of the aggressive young woman with a micrometer-thin veneer of self-confidence who invests her identity in her boyfriend (Jordan Hundley); of the anxiety-ridden, overachieving goaltender who, like the great Bill Russell, vomits before every game (Dominique Kalunga); of the oddball newcomer who lives in a yurt and whose soccer skills dwarf those of the rest of the team (Vivian Lemons); of the team captain (Caroline Coleman) whose physical gifts are limited but whose leadership makes the team the Wolves.
The Wolves has no great store of insight or incident; it serves principally as a character study. And the characters are not particularly startling, at least not to anyone who has raised a girl to adulthood. They struggle, inexpertly, to understand the world and history; they are snide and vulnerable in turn; they have contempt for adults and adore them; and they are deeply sexual. Playwright Sarah DeLappe draws each of them with great specificity, and the NextStop cast, under Kathryn Chase Bryer’s careful direction, by and large do them justice.
Such subtle writing provides opportunity for the actors to show their chops, and they do: The characters played by Hundley and Teryn Cuozzo have a terrific confrontation, all the more startling because it seems to come out of nowhere (it doesn’t). Lemons’ character (all characters are identified only by their uniform number; first names are uttered only at the end, and then for only few characters) is loopy in unpredictable ways, alternately saying sweet and cringeworthy things; Lemons delivers these lines with the same benevolent nonchalance, and when the other girls look away in disgust, her puzzlement seems absolutely sincere.
closes February 24, 2019
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Kalunga’s goalie has a brief silent solo scene in which she puts herself through punishing exercises at breakneck speed. “Punishing” and “breakneck” are the operative words here: it is soon evident that this extraordinarily accomplished young woman — who has a high academic average and also plays the cello — detests herself, and that no workout can be punishing enough. To all you self-conscious Washington strivers, this is your scene.
This scene, incidentally, highlights Kalunga’s superb athleticism — as another brief scene highlights Lemons’. Since neither actor highlights her soccer experience in her bio, I am guessing that soccer consultant Lisa Hamilton and movement coach Hilary Joel had something to do with their performances. Nice work, folks.
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Coleman’s role is probably the most difficult. Her captain must know when to push her players, and when to slack off and idle and gossip. Coleman seems savvy when she applies that knowledge, but not calculating. As the play progresses she must bring her teammates to an understanding about her and her friend which they might not be eager to have, and, as Coleman plays her, she brings that understanding to the fore without histrionics.
There is a sudden turn of events toward the end of the show, a sort of deus ex machina which allows the Wolves to show their maturity, determination and love for one another. This is the only moment where the author appears to have intruded on the production, but even here she ladles information out indirectly, as it might come out in real life.
Like the kids in Peanuts, the adolescents in The Wolves live in a world populated by each other; when an adult (Vanessa Lock Gelinas, in a nice turn) appears at the end, it is like an awkward visit from another planet.
In her program notes, Director Bryer observes that to her knowledge, this production of The Wolves is the first done in which actual teenagers play the teenaged characters. That may be so, but these actors are not novices. Coleman in particular has worked at Olney, Adventure and Shakespeare Theatre Company, and the other actors have serious academic and amateur theater cred. The bane of productions with nonprofessional performers is that you can see the quote marks around the dialogue; the actors are acting, rather than being.
Here the dialogue is unforced and natural, the emotions (with rare exceptions) flow naturally from the events and are proportional to them. This is of course a credit to Bryer, an experienced director, but it is also a credit to the DMV’s large and sophisticated network of acting education programs, who are helping to turn out our next generation of Geros and Twyfords, Wallaces and Gilberts, Ursulas and Weaks.
The Wolves, by Sarah DeLappe, directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer . Featuring Vanessa Lock Gelinas, Caroline Coleman, Dominique Kalunga, Vivian Lemons, Jordan Hundley, Teryn Cuozzo, Jordan James, Makayla Collins, Maya Tischler and Rachel Lipetz . Scenic designer: Jonathan Dahm Robertson . Costume designer: Marilyn Lopes . Lighting designer: Sarah Tundermann . Sound designer: Reid May . Properties designer: Alex Wade . Scenic Painter: Madeline McGrath . Master electrician: Jonathan Abolins . Soccer consultant: Lisa Hamilton . Movement coach: Hilary Joel . Produced by NextStop Theatre Company . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.