BWW Review: THE WOLVES Scores at Dallas Theater Center
Forgive the obvious pun in the headline, but there is simply no better way to put it. Like a winning goal made in the final seconds of the World Cup, Dallas Theater Center has delivered an explosively exciting production of THE WOLVES, one of the most explosively exciting American plays of the last several years. The play runs through April 14 at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre.
A finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, Sarah DeLappe's drama (amazingly, her first) tells the interconnected stories of nine players on a girls' soccer team over the course of their winter season. And "stories" is the best description of what the audience experiences. The plot is not so much a clear narrative arc as it is a tangle of conflicts arising and disappearing from week to week, the significant becoming insignificant and vice versa as the games pass by. Players are referred to by the numbers on their jerseys rather than their names, making these characters fierce athletes first and daughters, sisters, girlfriends second. On the field, all that matters to these players is the game ahead and their relationships to one another.
Wendy Dann directs this production with a meticulous eye and ear for detail, conducting her cast like a symphony in which certain voices and plotlines might rise over others, but all blending together into a harmonious whole. And this is not a mere metaphor. The script calls for multiple conversations to take place between different players at the same time so that audience members will pick up different strains of dialogue depending on where they're sitting. From my seat, I overheard a deep discussion about genocide in Cambodia alongside advice about menstrual hygiene. Half the excitement of the play is wondering what might be taking place across the field in a conversation you can't quite hear. At least not yet.
As if these dialogic dynamics weren't enough, the cast frequently delivers their lines while also taking part in team stretches and passing drills. None of the fancy soccer ball handling ever detracts from what is taking place between the characters, though. In fact, the element of the warmup allows for another window into the lives of these girls as we see them work to include or exclude certain players or kick the ball harder than they meant to at someone who might no longer be a trusted friend. Soccer becomes another channel of expression.
Dann's ensemble cast of ten - the nine players plus one soccer mom - interact with each other as intimately as if they had been playing soccer together for years rather than just a few weeks. Just as importantly, they deliver all of their lines with an emotional sincerity that allows the audience to care as much about the little details of their lives as they do. It feels wrong to single out any one performer for any one moment because the show depends so much on the world they create together.
Nevertheless, individual accolades are in order. Ana Hagedorn perfectly portrays the innocence and obliviousness of home-schooled #46, a newcomer to the Wolves. Her awkward interjections and sometimes tactless conversation starters provide the play with much of its comedic relief. Lauren Steele and Zoë Kerr, as #13 and #8 respectively, also draw laughs with their gentle teasing of their teammates, though both just as easily handle their characters' barely suppressed sadness. Molly Searcy's #11 expertly represents the kind of teenager just on the cusp of intellectual adulthood, delivering her brief political lectures with confidence while also nearly shaking with frustration at any mention of her parents.
Kylie Tru Ritter is endearing as the religiously sheltered but incredibly sweet #2, and Sydney Lo manages to speak volumes with her intense physicality even though her character #00 has the fewest lines in the show. As #25 and the team captain, Elena Urdaneta commands the stage and the field with an assured coolness that belies her tumultuous personal battles. Rounding out the team, as #7 and #14, Amber Ross and Kim Taff play a pair of best friends who provide the show with one of its most moving threads, both actresses switching between steely stubbornness and raw emotion as the play progresses to an uncertain conclusion. To say more would be to say too much.
This DTC production is helped in equal measure by the show's creative team, which has devoted as much energy to bringing the show to life as the cast has. The small studio space in which THE WOLVES is performed might present a challenge to any designer, but Steve TenEyck's set manages to turn this intimate venue into a realistic corner of an indoor soccer field, complete with real turf. Adam Honoré adds to the effect with his lighting design that mixes intense stadium lighting with subtle spotlights and shadowing. Sarah Pickett's sound design surrounds the audience with whistles and murmuring crowds. Sarah Harris's costume design grants the characters flashes of individuality even as they all wear the same uniform (though I'm told the safety bandages aren't always just for show).
Taking place in less time than it takes to watch a soccer match, DTC's THE WOLVES presents audiences with nine extraordinary and everchanging lives that run off the field just as we think we've finally gotten to know them. And while you may find yourself wishing for extra time, you'll find yourself cheering all the same.
Photo Credit: Karen Almond