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The Wolves

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 20, 2017

The Cast
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Writing recently about another play, I made the point that the day-to-day lives of teenagers can be terribly dramatic, at least to them. While that particular work failed to make a convincing show of it, the same is certainly not true of Sarah DeLappe's thrilling "girl power" play The Wolves, which opened tonight at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center.

Wonderfully acted by a tight-knit ensemble, The Wolves is about the things we miss when we fail to pay attention beyond the random (albeit entertaining) chit-chat and gossip of young women, in this case the members of a high school girls' soccer team. And it is important that we do pay attention, because the most significant moments emerge quietly and naturally as part of the sometimes overlapping dialog that fills the air while they are doing their pre-game stretching, running, kicking and other exercises over the course of a single season. These conversations might simultaneously encompass any number of diverse topics, such the one that kicks off the play; while one group of girls is discussing the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, another is debating the relative merits of menstrual pads and tampons.

It's a funny juxtaposition, of course, but don't be lulled into thinking this is merely a lightweight comedy or a gentle satire about the trivial lives of adolescent girls. Indeed, the play has gathered some real gravitas in the year since it had an initial run in a production at The Duke, driven by a newly-awakened national awareness about the sexism and harassment that women experience on a regular basis. What might have been seen (or even missed) as a throwaway line a year ago takes on a whole new weight, like the remark one of the girls makes about "Coach Neil, the creep who asked us to scrimmage in our sports bras." Perhaps the girls can shrug it off, but consider the fact that we are the ones who have taught them to shrug it off, not to mention the implications of allowing such a man to work unnoticed and unchallenged in a school setting.

One of the intriguing things about the play is that we don't hear any of the girls mentioned by name for most of the evening. Instead, they generally refer to one another by the numbers on their uniforms, an important distinction that seems to serve the purpose of emphasizing the team as a whole over the individual players. It also underscores the universality of the things that matter to them, from worries about their future, to eating disorders, to sex. They speculate as to whether one of them has had an abortion, we learn that one has narrowly escaped from an unwanted sexual encounter, and another seems to be examining her sexual orientation. There is also resentment over the fact that the boys' team has a former professional soccer player working with them, while they are stuck with a "washed-up pudgeball who spends games at the vending machine."

It's all out there, and it is up to the girls to figure things out without much assistance from disengaged parents, teachers, or coaches. In fact, when the only adult shows up in the last few moments (Mia Barron as a distraught soccer mom), hers is a disturbing and disruptive presence, one that can only be overcome by the girls forming a pre-game huddle and repeating their team's cheer, over and over and louder and louder: "We are the wolves. We are the wolves. We are the wolves!!!"

Commendations all around for this original play that captures so well the secret world and voices of these high school girls. Director Lila Neugebauer has done a splendid job of building an authentic team out of her young performers, all but one of whom has been with the play since its initial production. While all that we see takes place in Laura Jellinek's monochromatic pre-game practice space, our experience is greatly enhanced by Lap Chi Chu's lighting and Stowe Nelson's sound design, both suggestive of the actual soccer matches going on just beyond our view. Even the pre-show music smartly incorporates songs performed by women singers the girls would be listening to, including (if I'm not mistaken) Demi Lavato, Lizzo, and Taylor Swift. Most of all, however, kudos go out to the girls of The Wolves: Susannah Perkins, Paola Sanchez Abreu, Jenna Dioguardi, Sarah Mezzanotte, Midori Francis, Tedra Millan, Samia Finnerty, Brenna Coates, and Lizzy Jutila. Long may they howl!

The Wolves
Through January 7
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge

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