I knew from my first glimpse of the set of The Wolves, the Pulitzer Prize finalist of a play by Sarah Delappe playing through the end of this weekend at Zoetic Stage, that I was in for something a little different. Instead of your typical raised stage, I found myself looking down on a huge curved platform covered in Astroturf!
A group of young actresses playing a high school soccer team then emerged, identified throughout the play only by their jersey numbers rather than given names. They then immediately launched into some of the most naturalistic dialogue I’ve ever seen onstage, spoken with near-perfect chemistry and at lightning speed. Characters frequently talked over each other and non-sequiturs abounded, and the result sounded remarkably like life.
This fast paced style led to a lot of comedic moments throughout the play, and it was also refreshing to see young women immediately start talking frankly about traditionally unlady-like subjects like periods, abortions, nervous vomiting, and who took that huge dump in the port-a-potty.
Every scene took place on the girls’ soccer field, but the scope of The Wolves stretched far beyond it; the girls’ dialogue touches on issues as weighty as the immigration debate, the Cambodian genocide, and sexual harassment by coaches. However, I use the phrase “touched on” for a reason; as interesting as the play’s conversational style was, it also fostered a leaping from issue to issue too quickly to explore any of them in much depth.
I also wonder if the 90 minute and 9-person show would have been better served by fewer characters who were more developed rather than a whole team given only surface characteristics. For example, we get glimpses of #2’s eating disorder and #25’s exploring her sexuality without really diving into the psychological complexity of either.
Nor do I think the play had a particularly suspenseful or technically well-crafted plot, with tension mostly coming from the subtly shifting relationships between the characters and the minor drama of whether the team will win and who will get scouted. I can see how it might’ve been off-putting to those who came to the theatre in search of more conventional narratives, but in my mind the story’s awkwardness and aimlessness was part of the point.
This was most evident near the end of the play, when an emotionally harrowing twist seems to come completely out of nowhere. Yet sometimes, that’s just what tragedy’s like. Not forecasted or foreshadowed, and not necessarily congruent with what came before; just sudden and devastating and so regrettably real.
Much as I hate naming standouts in such an ensemble-driven piece, especially one featuring an absolutely fierce cast made up entirely of women, I did take note of Katherine Burns’ vivacious energy and consistently brilliant comedic timing as #8. I also noticed the dramatic abilities of Tuesline Jean-Baptiste as #00 In a heartrending scene showcasing the characters’ visceral reaction to grief. Elena Maria Garcia as an unnamed soccer mom also absolutely nailed her intense singular scene near the end of the play.
Finally, I have to once again commend the whole cast for mastering the physical demands of the play, which included keeping control of a soccer ball onstage and multiple high-knee and butt-kick runs across the stage. Though the show’s writing is probably a little too spotty for it to warrant a spot in my all-time favorites, it’s probably worth seeing for the remarkable performances alone, and I’m definitely glad I got the chance to behold something as theatrically weird and wonderful as The Wolves.