BWW Review: THE WOLVES at Goodman Theatre Scores Big
With her Pulitzer Prize finalist THE WOLVES, young playwright Sarah DeLappe has beautifully, movingly, and realistically captured the tenuousness that comes with being a teenage girl navigating the thorny terrain of high school. DeLappe has captured so precisely the agony and nuances of high school female friendship. In this 90-minute play about an indoor high school girls' soccer team, DeLappe presents the achingly real challenges of life as a teenage girl in suburban America. While the nine members of the eponymous Wolves are fierce soccer players on the field, these three-dimensional characters have much more to contend with once they step off.
THE WOLVES plays out as a series of vignettes while the team warms up for many indoor soccer matches. Over the course of the play, we watch the team engage in rapid-fire exchanges on topics ranging from Harry Potter to genocide. And in these many overlapping, wide ranging conversations, DeLappe shows us moments that provide insight into each of her characters. These scenes also perfectly capture the harried thoughts of high school girls as they struggle with the tension between wanting to express themselves and wanting to blend in with their teammates.
DeLappe identifies the play's characters only by their jersey numbers. While the characters have easily recognizable patterns of behavior, she is careful to make none of them into stereotypes. #00 (Angela Alise) is the perfectionist goalie who suffers from social anxiety. #25 (Isa Arciniegas) is the team captain and former coach's daughter; she is intense and eager to put the team in line, while also going through her own moment of discovery about her sexuality. #2 (Taylor Blim) is sheltered but endlessly kind-hearted, and she may be struggling with an eating disorder. #7 (Natalie Joyce) is aggressive and rather fond of the F-word and seems to be more sexually experienced than her teammates. #14 (Aurora Real De Asua) is her quieter sidekick, who seems on the brink of coming into her own but does not reveal that more confident side of her personality to the audience. #8 (Cydney Moody) is earnest and wants to be in the know, though she may also be among the most naïve of them all. #11 (Sarah Price) is academically motivated and eager to find her voice as an intellectual. #13 (Mary Tilden) seems unhinged and wacky. #46 (Erin O'Shea) is new to the team, awkward, and hoping beyond hope to connect with her fellow teammates. While these descriptions only scrape the surface of what DeLappe offers with these characters, they are so vividly drawn that it is worth mentioning them all.
Under the assured direction of Vanessa Stalling, THE WOLVES has been given a stellar production for its Chicago debut here at Goodman Theatre. Set designer Collete Pollard brilliantly transform the Owen Theatre into an in-the-round turf field so audiences can view the proceedings from all sides. This staging thoroughly immerses audiences in the indoor soccer world. Keith Parham's lighting, particularly in transitions between scenes, adds to the buzzing energy of the play. Mikhail Fiksel's sound design is exceedingly clever and his carefully honed girl power playlist fits the vibe of the play with a knowing wink.
Stalling has also assembled a spectacular ensemble who add further humanity to DeLappe's naturalistic dialogue. All of the actors handle DeLappe's economy of language with command, and together they make the heart at the center of THE WOLVES beat with even more emotion. Each actor gives her character so much depth and finds all of the levels and emotions that the script demands. As an ensemble, they also must display some fancy and convincing footwork to make the play seem real; O'Shea particularly succeeds in this regard. She also gives one of the finest performances of the evening, with an awkwardness and undertone of loneliness that feels entirely too real. Moody sells #8's earnestness and desire to fit in, while also showing us how much her character has yet to grow and learn. Arciniegas fully sells her authoritative captain role, while also letting us see the vulnerabilities that lie beneath. All of the actors perform beautifully in their individual roles and yet also come together so convincingly as a team. It seems clear that there is a real sense of trust and openness among this group of actors, and that makes the play succeed even more.
In THE WOLVES, DeLappe so deeply entrenches the audience into the lives of the team's teenaged members that it is shocking when an adult appears near the end of the play. Yet I would be remiss not to mention Meighan Gerachis and her appearance as Soccer Mom. Not only is her existence in the script a moment that catches us off-balance, but Gerachis makes that moment all the more powerful.
While I would be hard pressed to find an element of THE WOLVES I did not love, a significant plot twist towards the play's end feels a bit forced. DeLappe clearly felt that she needed an inciting event to up the emotional stakes, but the natural rhythms of the play already lend themselves to that. This is just a small blip on an otherwise stunning play.
THE WOLVES gives not just visibility, but achingly real and moving representation to characters rarely seen onstage. DeLappe keenly articulates the uncertainty of female adolescence in her script, and the Goodman's ensemble elevates that material for maximum emotional effect and resonance.
THE WOLVES runs through March 11 at Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn. Tickets are $10-$47. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org or call 312.443.3800 for tickets.
Photo by Liz Lauren