It’s not all fun and games in The Wolves, the new play by Sarah DeLapppe receiving its world-premiere production from the Playwrights Realm. Despite taking place on a soccer field, and the entire cast of characters belonging to the same team, the skillfully paced play focuses on much more than who wins a game.
Directed with admirable precision by Lila Neugebauer, The Wolves consists of the conversations between the teenage girls on the team while they warm up for their games. Neglected by their absentee coach, who is never seen but whose drinking habits are frequently discussed, their conversations intertwine and overlap as they talk about everything from international news to the quirky behavior of their newest team member, #46 (an impressively humorous Tedra Millan). The team is led by their captain, #25 (Lauren Patten, excellent) as they attempt to navigate the complications faced by young women in America, struggling with school, their sexuality and competing for athletic scholarships to college. The obsession with perfection that permeates the years before college is represented by their overachieving goalie (a surprising Lizzy Jutila), whose anxiety drives her to vomit before every game and eventually erupts in an impressive moment of solo performance that depicts her painful stress and isolation.
Competition is inevitable amongst a group of girls, both on the field and off, and The Wolves paints a startlingly realistic portrayal of the social status of teenagers, especially between #7 (Brenna Coates) and her sidekick #14 (Samia Finnerty), whose dynamic shifts abruptly, the ripple effects being felt throughout the entire team. But it is never presented as petty or hormonal, a welcome change from how teenage girls’ troubles are often depicted.
Rather than condescend, or attempt to offer an overly sympathetic look at The Typical Life of an American Teenager, The Wolves presents the darker aspects of its characters’ lives without any commentary or judgment. There are no world-changing moments taking place on this patch of Astroturf in Middle America, but these compelling performances invite the audience’s investment and empathy. Another absence from this play is a welcome one, and that is of the sexualization of the all-female cast, who are almost always dressed in their athletic uniforms. It is their strength that the audience is invited to watch, not their youth or beauty.
Directed by Lila Neugebauer, The Wolves moves evenly at a swift pace and never lags throughout its 90-minute performance. With the recently heightened awareness of works by women and the lack of parity in the theater community, this impressive play by DeLapppe inspires a sense of optimism about more works like this in the future.