Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Love, Linda
Early on, under the rich direction of Melissa Rain Anderson, it's all a bit maddening, like being trapped in a minivan with a gaggle of 16-year-old girls. And as is normal for that cohort, each one can maintain up to four separate conversations all at the same time, which (do the math) is something like eight to the fourth power conversations. (Seriously, do the math, because I can't.) Each of the girls seems monochromatic at first. Keaton Whittaker plays the "bad girl" who's been on the soccer field since the age of three or four, and for whom toughness is a guiding principle, both in the game and with older boys in hot tubs. If this were Luce's The Women and we were all desperate to see elegant Manhattan gals in fancy dress, she might have been the amoral Crystal. But here she must discover a more honest, elusive third form of toughness as the season plays out. Maya J. Christian is the very insistent wisecracker who learns to pose a mean moral conundrum; and Mary Katharine Harris is mysterious as the oddball homeschooled kid, seemingly from the tenth dimension.
None of the characters is readily namable, each one is listed in the program by her jersey number, as befits a story of group cohesion. But #2 (Cecily Dowd) is first tagged as a tongue-talking evangelical, only to be re-classified by the girls, later, into a more anodyne sect. She still manages to be the moral authority, despite a half dozen on-field concussions. The detective work of categorizing each other's mercurial adolescent identities and the weighing out of each other's character are major themes here. But Rachael Logue is the no-nonsense team captain who steps in at the most awkward moments to keep the girls focused on soccer.
There is the ever-present danger of "going too far" in one's declaration of self or the world, as #8 (Colleen Dougherty) discovers when she compares her teammates to Hobbits. Later, she manages to hit the group's psychological "sweet spot" by leading a singing version of the Preamble to the Constitution in one of the show's great unifying moments. Each girl is either a knowing "insider" or a pained "outsider" at various points in the 90-minute play, which first seems like a newly opened box of 500 puzzle pieces. But all the relationship-testing and all the bearing of one another's burdens makes for an indelible moment at the end.
Nancy Bell is the only grown-up on stage in The Wolves, and she doesn't come on until the final minutes. Her uneasy, light cajoling of the girls' "upspeak" and their over-use of words like "like" (in an awkward little speech after a sudden tragedy) snowballs into a mad tirade. The girls can only watch in stunned silence, seeing how overwhelming grown-up responsibility can be. But, as the soccer mom herself could tell them, being "like" an adult is not the same as being an adult; and being "like" a child doesn't make one a child. Once she's done, the teenagers' collective response is one of fiery power as the lights go dim.
The Wolves, through February 3, 2019, at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio Theatre, on the campus of Webster University, 110 Edgar Rd. St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
The Players (in speaking order):
Additional Production Credits: