BWW Review: THE WOLVES: Empowered By The Pack
Written by Sarah DeLappe, Directed by A. Nora Long; Scenic Design, Shelley Barish; Costume Design, Amanda Mujica; Lighting Design, Karen Perlow; Sound Design, Elizabeth Cahill; Soccer Consultant, Olivia Levine; Props Artisan, Cesara Walters; Production Stage Manager, Diane McLean; Assistant Stage Manager, Lauren J. Burke
CAST (in alphabetical order): Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Simone Black, Olivia Z. Cote, Chelsea Evered, Grace Experience, Laura Latreille, Julia Lennon, Valerie Terranova, Jarielle Whitney
There are many reasons why the Lyric Stage Company production of Sarah DeLappe's play The Wolves is important. The 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama focuses on the lives of nine female teens who are teammates on an indoor soccer team, and invites us to listen to the stories they tell, skillfully showing their individuality within the larger group. Director A. Nora Long leads her own all-women team of designers, providing a field of dreams for the ensemble of women to play on, extending their domain beyond theater, into sports. In 2019, when the battle of the sexes rages on, sometimes unchecked in the virtual world (think #MeToo, the Gillette ad), a nonet of fierce young women coming of age before our eyes is a welcome sight to behold.
In one sense, there is nothing remarkable about any of DeLappe's characters, each with her own set of typical insecurities, strengths, and weaknesses. What is remarkable is the playwright's keen sense of character and her ability to craft dialogue that crackles and reflects who they are, especially as part of the whole. Eight of the girls have known each other and played together for years, sharing an easy camaraderie, but are suddenly faced with absorbing a new girl, a home-schooled outsider, into their well-oiled machine. For her part, #46 (all of the characters are identified by numbers, not names) seems accustomed to the challenge of trying to fit in, but that doesn't eliminate her awkwardness as she searches for the right opening.
Compartmentalized into six scenes, The Wolves is character-driven and heavy on synchronized stretching and soccer drills. There is a visual similarity to the scenes as the girls take to the practice field and share (mostly) good-natured banter on topics ranging from the political to the personal, including feminine hygiene, boys, and their feelings about their coach and other teams. However, there is a gradual increase in the depth of intimacy as the characters reveal bits and pieces of their inner selves. One girl's anxiety, another's fierce competitiveness, and another's intellect come into focus as the season moves forward, and Long's pacing of the action makes it progress like the weeks of the soccer schedule. The tension is palpable as the competition nears its end and one win or loss can determine who goes to Nationals.
The ensemble is a meld of incredible talent and, as much as each character is a well-defined person, the whole is great because of the sum of its parts. Like their team in the story, the actors work together in service of a goal that is unachievable if they fail to pull in unison. Yet, even with only the usual couple of weeks to rehearse and mount the show, and recognizing the fact that few of the actors have worked together before, the chemistry and cohesiveness is striking. The teammates are Sarah Elizabeth Bedard (#11), Valerie Terranova (#25), Jarielle Whitney (#13), Lydia Barnett-Mulligan (#46), Chelsea Evered (#2), Olivia Z. Cote (#7), Grace Experience (#14), Julia Lennon (#8), and Simone Black (#00), with Laura Latreille (Soccer Mom), the lone "grownup" in the cast, drawing a stunning emotional contrast when she appears late in the story.
Most of us can probably remember a time in our lives when one thing was all-consuming, when victory or defeat on the athletic field was a matter of life or death. That's what it's like for the Wolves, until an unexpected, devastating event teaches them a life lesson of greater importance. The strength of their relationships is tested in an unprecedented way, and they learn what being a team is really about. Women are generally known to be there for each other in times of need, but DeLappe tweaks that quality by showing it as forged in the fire of the sports arena. When the teammates huddle up for their pre-game cheer in the final scene, with ascending volume and a growing sense of urgency, they will themselves to believe in their power and strength and that they. are. wolves.
Photo credit: Mark S. Howard (The cast of The Wolves)