TheatreSquared’s “The Wolves,” written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Shana Gold, is a coming-of-age play that seats the audience up close to the performers as it delves into the intense, emotional topics of life as a teenage girl.
“The Wolves” focuses on a soccer team of nine girls, each one with a divergent personality, and their conversations during warm-ups before games on their way to nationals. It is a light-hearted setting for sometimes difficult, ardent speech, with topics ranging from religion to sexuality.
The play won the American Playwriting Foundation’s inaugural Relentless Award and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Yale Drama Series Prize. It is also the Critical Pick for TheatreSquared.
A small rectangular soccer field makes up the stage with the audiences’ seats set up along the sidelines in rows, making it feel like the audience members are right there with the girls, sitting in the bleachers. However, what I found to be unique was the surrounding lighting — dim enough to focus on the field, but not dim enough for the rest of the audience to be forgotten. During the play, I could look across the stage at the other side of the “bleachers” and see other audience members’ faces — which made it feel even more intimate.
The play starts off with the girls discussing different things as they stretch in a circle before their first game. It’s difficult at first to follow along as the conversation varies, but the audience members can choose who to focus on and fill in the rest.
Most of the girls have grown up playing with each other and going to the same school, except one of the girls who adds a little awkwardness to the dynamic, having just moved to town and being homeschooled (and living in a yogurt? A yurt!)
Every girl has something specific about them that makes them stand out from the rest during different points in the play. One is very religious, one is a natural leader while quietly figuring out her own sexuality, one is working to overcome anxiety, one is the jokester, one has a boyfriend and possibly had an abortion in the past, one is hard-working and studious, one is a sidekick, and one is still naive of the world.
The actresses were absolutely incredible. Pulling the audience in to the everyday life of teenage girls by making it seem like they were just re-telling their personal stories. They each knew their parts so well that, at times, I forgot that they were acting.
About halfway through the play, I found myself wanting to choose a favorite character but realized that I still didn’t know any of their names. The sparse name calling felt intentional. It made the play more personal and creating a nostalgic feeling by allowing the audience to remember girls from when they were that age and insert those memories into the playing out of the performance.
A lot of the story line, including the actual games, the personalities of the coach and recruiters, an injury and a tragedy, are all explained in conversation. Most of the major events happen off-stage and are left up to the imagination of the audience.
The music played the important role of easing the transition from one game day to the next. It helped build suspense and gave the audience time to sort out feelings from one conversation and prepare for the next topic.
There is one event, inexplicitly stated, that shifts the entire mood of the play into a more somber, dark feel. This event is initiated by an emotional scene where one of the girls, the goalie with anxiety, practices alone. A devastating event put the rest of life into perspective for the remaining girls as they figure out how to continue their soccer careers.
I left the theater feeling mixed emotions including confusion about how the events unfolded so quickly, sadness for the girls and their loss, appreciation for the way I was raised and inspiration to keep my relationships close. The performance made me laugh because of the funny and unique personalities of the girls. The dark parts woven in the story made me sad, but didn’t make me cry.
This production is a must see as DeLappe and Gold brilliantly take us back to the days of people’s youth.
“The Wolves” will continue through March 24 at TheatreSquared. Tickets are $36-$47 depending on the night and seating choice.