Review: The Play’s the Thing (Literally) in Sara DeLappe’s ‘The Wolves’

By Kim Jackson

At the conclusion of The Wolves (Sonorous Road Theatre), my theater companion exclaimed, “this was my daughter’s team!” Indeed Sarah DeLappe’s drama about a high school girls’ indoor soccer team deftly explores the friendships, rivalries, and complexities of teenage life in a way that moves beyond the caricatures that are often portrayed in film and television.

These nine young women are introduced as athletes first, identified only by the numbers on the back of their jerseys. But very quickly they begin to distinguish themselves through the intersecting conversations they have with one another while going through various warm-up routines. They are stretching their bodies and their minds as they grapple over the “ethically complicated” issues of sentencing the near-death leader of the Cambodian genocide as well as the efficacy of tampons over pads. They scout out the other team they are about to play, making fervent remarks that provoke random tangents. We see minds bouncing and moving among topics like a soccer passing drill.

The dialogue of this play will sound familiar; DeLappe is keenly aware of the cadence and pace of teen speech. She also pushes the audience to listen carefully since these conversations frequently overlap and often what may seem like a dismissive or wry comment is the most revealing. We see the forces that have shaped these young women as they are just beginning to understand the complexities of life, an awareness that comes when you become more attuned to issues beyond your own confined world.

In addition to the language of the play, DeLappe demands a great deal of physicality from each of the nine actors. Most scenes involve an active workout and even doing laps; the Sonorous ensemble rise to the challenge, effortlessly moving through their practice routines while exploring  a motley of topics on an artificial turf (a basic but effective set by Lance Herbert, enhanced with lighting by Kaitlin Rider). Director Michelle Murray Wells and Movement Director Heather Strickland have pushed this ensemble to live in this world, and wear their adolescent experiences on their soccer jersey, almost like a second skin.

These girls embody the range of pressures teens face along with  the various coping mechanisms they often use as they struggle to figure out who they are and chart out their futures. Player #7 swaggers with attitude and language, confidently conveyed by Samantha A. Matthew. Team Captain, #25, played with a fine line of nervous, restrained energy by Kimmy Florentino, strains to keep the group focused while struggling with newfound emotions. Player #14, robustly acted by Shawn Morgenlander, struggles with her own conflicting loyalties, while Harper Cleland (#8) and Pimpila Violette (#13), give subtle yet energetic performances as the much needed comic relief. In addition, Elise Kimple (#11) wields her character’s sardonic intellectualism as a shield, and portrays her character with great sensitivity.

Ivy Ever lends a wide-eyed freshness to #2, a girl from a religious family that is somewhat removed from pop culture since she lacks access to both a smart phone and television. Ironically, she has more in common with the new girl on the team, #46, smartly played by Supriya Jaya, who appears somewhat worldly because of her travel writer mother. Both are awkward and are often at the edge of the shifting alliances.

The Goalie, #00, played with deliberate and restrained intensity by Sierra Smith, conveys all the pressures of the position. She rarely comments on anything and often runs from the practice area to empty her stomach before every game. She has a truly memorable scene, and her character personifies the depth of the life lessons learned.

Adults are occasionally mentioned throughout the play, with special reference to the drunken coach who is assigned to the team. It’s a sad commentary on how all too often women’s sports are not afforded the best resources. Interestingly enough, no parents appear on stage until the final scene with Benji Jones somewhat overplaying the emotional soccer mom.

This play doesn’t build to an expected cathartic release of winning or losing a big game; yet the ending is highly emotional while avoiding sentimentality. It was a 2017 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama precisely because it upends our expectations while also celebrating the resilience of these young women on the cusp of adulthood. Yes, it is a coming-of-age, loss of innocence work in the traditional sense. But it is also an engaging portrayal of the struggle to find your position on the field, maintain team loyalty, and still stand out, while building the skills needed for playing the bigger game of life.

The Wolves runs through March 3rd. For more information visit: https://sonorousroadrep.org/the-wolves.

To watch the RDU on Stage video interview with Director Michelle Wells and Movement Director Heather Strickland click here.

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