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Review: #GirlsRule in THE WOLVES at Portland Playhouse

Review: #GirlsRule in THE WOLVES at Portland Playhouse I was both astonished and not at all surprised to learn that THE WOLVES was Sarah DeLappe's first play. Astonished because this 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist is so beautifully constructed that it seems more like the culmination of a career rather than the beginning of one. And not at all surprised because it breaks all of the rules such that you never see what's coming, often until you're right in the middle of it. I'm going to predict right now that THE WOLVES will be in the running for the best show of the Portland theatre season.

The lights go up on nine members of the girls indoor soccer team The Wolves, stretching and chatting as teenage girls do. It starts out as a cacophony, with all of the girls talking over one another and about a hundred things at once. Soon, your ears start to pick up the threads of two different conversations: one about the Cambodian genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge and one about tampons.

This conversation illustrates the girls' precarious position between childhood and adulthood. They're still into Harry Potter and grossed out by menstrual blood. They're also starting to have sex and learn about global issues. They gossip and fight and tell secrets -- they're equal parts fierce and fragile. In other words, they're teenagers trying to make sense of the world and find their place in it. When something life-altering happens, they learn perhaps the most important lesson of all: that we're stronger together. It's an inspirational sports team story, but one unlike any inspirational sports team story you've ever seen.

One of the strengths of this play is DeLappe's extraordinary dialogue, which is so realistic as to make all other dialogue seem contrived. Another is her ability to create nine -- yes, nine -- fully developed characters in a short span of time without even giving them names (we learn just one name, almost at the end of the play). The girls are known by their numbers. #7 is the one most eager to become an adult, while #8 holds tightly to her childhood innocence. #13 doesn't take anything seriously, while #00 has such severe anxiety that she pukes before every game. Most of the girls have known one another for years, while #46 is a homeschooled stranger who lives in a yurt.

The cast that director Jessica Wallenfels has assembled comprises Kailey Rhodes, Ash Heffernan, Delaney Barbour, Fiona Palazzi, Lauren Vander Aarde, Andrea Vernae, Alyssa Longoria, Quinlan Fitzgerald, Barbie Wu, and Maureen Porter (who plays the only adult, on stage for just one devastating scene). It's some of the best ensemble work I've ever seen. These actors bring it. They perfectly portray the ups and downs of teenage emotions, while also doing some pretty fancy footwork on Kaye Blankenship's awesome soccer field set.

I left feeling shattered, uplifted, and wishing there were more plays like this.

THE WOLVES runs through October 20. Go see it. Take tissues. More details and tickets here.

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