The Wolves

by Carol Rocamora

 

 

Whether or not you’re a sports fan, you’ll be mesmerized by the moves of a soccer team called “The Wolves.” They’re warming up right now as if their lives depend on it, in the eponymous new play that just blazed open at Lincoln Center.

This is no ordinary soccer team. In an astonishing playwriting debut, Sarah DeLappe brings to life nine members of a teen-age girls’ indoor club, as they prepare for the season somewhere in American suburbia.   And these are fearless and ferocious players, indeed.

We never actually see them play a match. Over the course of a taut ninety minutes, we watch them instead warming up in an endless series of calisthenics, dazzlingly directed by Lila Neugebauer. It’s sports-choreography like nothing you’ve ever seen on stage – precise to the point of balletic – and after a while, you stop waiting for a conventional two- or three-character scene or even an actual “game.” Instead, you give in to this play’s unique and relentless rhythm – consisting of endless motion and overlapping dialogue, played out on Laura Jellinek’s blinding-green astro-turf set.

These girls never stop moving and never stop talking, as they practice their stretches and lunges. Conversation topics range from menstrual cycles to boys to coaches to Amnesty International to pot-smoking to (of all things) the Khmer Rouge and Cambodian history. The chatter is engaging, often hilarious, and brilliantly authentic, as DeLappe captures the rhythms and cadences of teenage girls’ conversation.   There are hilarious non-sequiturs –as one girl mistakenly refers to “Middle America,” instead of the geographically correct “Central America” (the influence of the Hobbits, evidently).

Who are these girls, clad in black-and-white uniform, represented only by numbers on their T-shirts and in the programs? Since they talk all at once, we can’t always follow their names. But slowly, their individual characters emerge. There’s worldly one (#7) who speaks in profanities, the goody-goody (#2), and the responsible one (#25). There’s #46, the newcomer, who (according to another girl) lives with her mom in a “yogurt” (soon to be corrected as “a yurt”). And so on.

Though this play may be enacted by an ensemble about an ensemble effort (soccer), this clever young writer is showing us that it’s about individuality as well as conformity. Gradually, the individual issues facing 11th grade girls come to light – like eating disorders, problems with parents, back-biting, fitting in, and so on. And of course, there’s competition and winning – after all, they are a “pack of wolves”, by name. All deserve mention for their triumphant “team” performance: Susannah Perkins, Paola Sanchez Abreu, Jenna Dioguardi, Sarah Mezzanotte, Midori Francis, Tedra Millan, Samia Finnerty, Brenna Coates, Lizzy Jutila.

What’s remarkable about DeLappe’s play is that there is no critical moment or turning point in the plot – no big “match,” no “definitive game.” Instead, toward the end, there’s a key off-stage incident and a final, deeply moving coda, introducing a new character played by Mia Barron (no spoiler, I promise).

What DeLappe leaves us with, instead, is a searing insight into what it means to grow up and face both the unpredictable and inevitable events in life. One girl dreams of going to the “Nationals” in Miami so she can visit Disney World – instead, it’s announced that they’re scheduled in Tulsa. Another girl dreams of dazzling everyone with her special maneuvers on the field – instead, she tears her ACL in practice and is benched for the season. And so on. These disappointments, these shattered dreams, are small ones, preparing us for the larger ones in life to come.

Like the other compelling coming-of-age plays that have recently captivated us – Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in 2014, Spring Awakening in 2015, and Dear Evan Hansen in 2016 – The Wolves doesn’t break our hearts. Rather, it fortifies them.

 

Photos: Julieta Cervantes

 

The Wolves, by Sarah DeLappe, directed by Lila Neugebauer, at Lincoln Center Theatre’s Mitzi Newhouse through January 7, 2018

 

 

 

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