Regional Reviews: Phoenix
With a keen ear for realistic dialogue, DeLappe uses overlapping conversations to depict the constant chatter the nine members of the Wolves, a successful indoor soccer team, have during a series of pre-game warm-ups. The girls discuss a range of topics, from current affairs to plans for sleepovers, the correct pronunciation of Harry Potter character names, and the Khmer Rouge (a recent social studies class topic) as they go through their stretches. With the goal of making it to nationals, and the hope of college recruitment in the air, there is also the looming threat of injury and failure. A new teammate trying to navigate her way into this tight-knit group causes a ripple in the dynamics, followed by injury and tragedy that bring the group even closer together and show that, while these may be strong, athletic young women, they are also quite vulnerable.
The beauty of DeLappe's piece is that you'll most likely find yourself reflected in a character or two and probably recall similar conversations and experiences you encountered when you were growing upfrom the uncomfortable nature of being a newcomer to the pain of having a friend turn on you and the constant drive to live up to your potential. But you'll also realize that the challenges the play depicts are also ones that we continue to face.
While most of the conversations the girls have are inconsequential, or even juvenile at times, DeLappe has given each character a distinct voice so, even though they are only identified by their jersey numbers in the program and in the dialogue, we quickly discover each girl's unique personality. At first the characters may appear to be archetypes, but throughout the piece DeLappe adds layers to each young woman, showing that they are all well-rounded and realistic individuals and much more than our initial perceptions.
The individuality of each character is expertly brought to life under Heather Lee Harper's direction, with an incredibly talented cast who create distinct women. Harper's pacing of the piece is superb and she doesn't ever let the cadence of the overlapping dialogue come across as unnatural or trip up her cast.
This is an ensemble piece in the truest sense and each actress is exceptional. Julia Murphy is wonderful as the timid and mousy new girl who doesn't quite know how to break into the group and who seems to always say the wrong things at the most inappropriate times. Shannyn Hall is strong as the profanity-spewing alpha dog who is more sexually experienced than the rest of the team and feels, in a way, that this makes her superior. Sarah Schalick is very good as her best friend on who must stand up for herself at a crucial moment even if that means she'll lose her friend. Erin Malimban is firm and likable as the team captain; the way she navigates the character's budding sexuality is as natural and no-nonsense as the firm grasp she has on the team's needs. Jillian Walker is hilarious as the ditzy, exuberant and childlike player, and Elizabeth Broeder is funny and endearing as the team's energetic loud mouth.
Taylor Shepard and Shannon Phelps provide fun interactions as a religiously minded and possibly bulimic young woman and a player who hates the fact that both of her parents are shrinks, respectively. Samantha Hanna has been in numerous Stray Cat productions, and is always exceptional. Here, she plays the quiet and nervous goalie who is prone to vomit before each game and who, we later learn, constantly visualizes failure. Hanna may not say much, but her facial expressions and mostly non-verbal interactions with her fellow cast members are superb. While there is much humor in the piece, when a tragedy strikes, Jodie Weiss's moving portrayal of a distraught soccer mom who doesn't know quite how to act and the way Hall quietly shows her character's vulnerability brought me to the point of tears.
Michael Peck's expansive AstroTurf set and Maci Cae Hosler's soccer outfits ground the piece in realism, and soccer consultant Aubrey Boyle realistically makes the cast come across as an actual soccer team. The intense drills the cast perform are practical and natural and play up their athletic abilities without missing a line of dialogue.
The universality of The Wolves is that DeLappe has created a group of characters who are young, athletic women easy to identify with, whether you are male or female and even if you aren't a soccer fan. The successes and failures they face are ones we have all encountered in some form, and will continue to face, and the honesty in the script and the beauty of these fierce young women is brought expertly to life in Stray Cat's memorable and moving production.
The Wolves runs through February 22, 2020, at Stray Cat Theatre, with performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be ordered by calling 480 227-1766 or at straycattheatre.org.
Director: Heather Lee Harper