BWW Review: THE WOLVES at Open Stage Of Harrisburg
Sarah DeLappe's 2016 play The Wolves first premiered at The Duke at 42nd Street. In 2017 it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Wolves shows us glimpses of conversations, gossip, fights, and friendships through a girls' indoor soccer team, The Wolves. It is an intense, emotional story to which women in particular will be able to relate. The Wolves opened at Open Stage of Harrisburg on February 16th.
The first thing the audience sees when they enter the theatre is the starkness of the set. While many of their shows use platforms and levels as part of their set, The Wolves features simply a floor covered with turf and blank walls, evoking the indoor soccer facilities where the teenage girls on the team spend hours of their time every week.
One of the most brilliant aspects of this show-and there are many-is the way they do the staging and lighting when the girls are playing soccer games. The audience finds themselves sitting in complete darkness for a few moments and then the lights, designed to show the players' faces and movements in relief against the background of the Blank Theatre walls, come up just long enough to show the girls moving into formation or encouraging one another or running or cheering. These game snapshots are well-choreographed and so perfectly lighted that the audience gets a sense of seeing actual scenes from an actual game-quite a feat in a small Studio Theatre.
The opening of the play starts a little slow, with the girls stretching and talking. The conversations overlap, and after a few minutes, the audience realizes that they're seeing some of the cliques and getting to know something about each of the characters just from how they join in the conversations (or how they don't). In a play like The Wolves, it is imperative that every actor be just as strong as the actor next to them, and the cast at Open Stage rises to meet that challenge. The amount of talent on the stage is incredible.
Erin Shellenberger, who plays the new girl (#46) on the soccer team, is delightfully awkward at the beginning of the play-interjecting comments into conversations that the other girls universally ignore. One of her most interesting moments is when she breaks a little, making up a song about living in a yogurt as she kicks the soccer ball, demonstrating her vulnerability and feeling of being alienated by these girls. As her character begins to find her place on the team and acceptance from the other girls, the audience sees her confidence grow.
Hailey Lockner, portraying player #8, deftly plays the slightly clueless, cheery girl who loves Lord of the Rings. One of the most delightful scenes is when she makes the connection between Middle America and Middle Earth and she and two of the other players begin to geek out about Lord of the Rings. Lockner's character is one that many will recognize from their own high school days, many probably were that character. One of her most relatable scenes is toward the end of the show when she is lamenting having a zit on her chin and explaining that she even stayed home from school because of it.
#2, played by Carly Lafferty, is the goody-goody of the group, growing up in a religious household. Lafferty is adorable in the role, her innocence endearing the audience to her. In an emotionally fraught scene, the audience begins to understand, even though it is never overtly said, that her character is struggling with an eating disorder. Without even uttering a single word, alone on the stage, Lafferty expresses the overwhelming desire to eat warring with the disgust experienced after eating. It is just a moment, but it is a haunting moment perfectly executed.
The most "normal" of the girls, #11, is adeptly portrayed by Maura McErlean. Her character is intensely interested in learning and researching and looking things up on the internet. She delivers what she learns with rapid-fire precision, contributing to any conversation with a litany of facts and figures gleaned from google. One of her best scenes is near the end of the show when it's just #11 and #46 on stage. It's one of the only times we see her character silent for any period of time, and McErlean gives the audience the impression that her character cannot find any facts to fill in the silence and address the emotions they are experiencing.
Vanessa Marie Hofer portrays #13, the girl who makes a joke out of everything. Hofer approaches this character with a wonderful level of energy and quirkiness so that even when she makes a joke out of something she shouldn't, the other characters eventually forgive her for it. #13 is probably one of my favorite characters-it is brilliantly written, and Hofer has the skills to pull it off with just the right balance of humor and sensitivity.
Katherine Campbell and Kalina Jenkins play best friends #7 and #14, respectively. Campbell's character seems like the stereotypical mean girl who has some anger issues. However, we see some real compassion from her when she reacts strongly to their conversation about immigration. She is driven and passionate, and Campbell handles the complexity of the character well. #14 is an interesting contrast to her best friend. She does not always go along with #7's loud, sarcastic, sometimes mean-spirited way of behaving. One of the most gripping scenes in the show is the argument that happens between #7 and #14. They perform this scene so well that the audience practically stops breathing in the face of their anger.
Benny Benamati is #25, the captain of the team. The character is passionate about soccer and stressed by the absence and incompetence of their coach while trying to define her own identity. Benamati's portrayal of this character reminds the audience of people they've known who are defined by their passions, whether it be art, academics, cooking, bike riding, or soccer. Benamati helps us to see how she literally carries the weight of the team's success on her shoulders and feels responsible for the outcome of the games and the cohesiveness of the team. In the final scene Benamati shows us another side to #25 that seems freer, more accessible to the other girls on the team, and perhaps a little more human.
The goalie, #00, is played by Lidi Nyambi. Her character doesn't speak much, but Nyambi uses every expression and movement to show how engaged she is in the practices, conversations, and games. She clearly cares deeply about the team and their success. The audience has the privilege of seeing #00 pushing herself to her limits in practice, experiencing a panic attack, and finally finding some release-finding her voice. And in the final scenes we finally hear her voice. The way Nyambi handles the arc in #00's character is beautiful.
In the final scene we meet one of the mother's, portrayed by Lisa Haywood. I don't want to say too much about her character because it will give away too much of the plot. Haywood has a tough job to do in a very short scene, portraying a stereotypical soccer mom dealing with very unusual emotional circumstances. This scene is beautifully executed by Haywood, and the girls reactions to her emotions are visceral and authentic.
The Wolves is the perfect selection for Open Stage's Coming of Age Season. While some of the topics covered may be difficult for some audience members, they are very real and the cast and crew at Open Stage handles them with great authenticity. It is a genuine, raw exploration of the experiences many teenage women face, and Open Stage is the right place to see this incredible play. Get your tickets at www.openstagehbg.com.