Review: 'The Wolves' at TheaterWorks

Tara Kennedy

  • OnStage Chief Connecticut Theatre Critic

With our current United States administration being dead-set on keeping women barefoot (maybe) and pregnant (definitely!), it feels like an emancipation to be experiencing a show made up entirely of young women – *authentic* young women, not caricatures or stereotypes. Honestly, this is a section of society who are often marginalized or ignored, except when Sony needs to sell its latest pop record or Essie its latest nail polish color. I mean, how often is the female teenager taken seriously as the main theme of a drama that isn’t conventional or a parody?

Lucky for us, playwright Sarah DeLappe has conceived of such a thing, and it has resulted in her Pulitzer-prize-nominated play, The Wolves. In some brilliantly-nimble ninety minutes, she composes the stories of nine young women that range in subject matter from the Khmer Rouge to abortion to Social Anxiety Disorder to Middle Earth, all with a quality that makes the audience think that they are eavesdropping on a girls’ soccer team warmup rather than watching a play.  It goes from seemingly banal conversations in overlapping chatter to some of the most compelling scene work I have seen on stage in some time. 

The girls are known only by their jersey numbers, and yet, I’ve sat through three-hour plays without caring about the characters as much as I cared about these nine young women: a remarkable accomplishment in playwriting. Each performer showcases her role with veracity and vigor, without missing a beat:  #14 (Rachel Caplan) is a half-Armenian woman whose close friendship with #7 is in jeopardy due to poor choices on #7’s behalf; #2 (Carolyn Cutillo) is a little sheltered but socially conscious with a secret; #7 (Olivia Hoffman) is the foul-mouthed, wild child, who claims to have a high tolerance for pain (maybe); #13 (Déa Julien) is the group comedienne cracking wise and the one always in the know (but not as much as she thinks); #11 (Shannon Keegan) is the seemingly solid soul with a taste for the morbid; #00 (Karla Gallegos) is the team goalie who says little but speaks volumes, especially during one powerful vignette; #25 (Emily Murphy) is the team captain trying to be the alpha female over her wolf pack, but clashes with #7 in particular, all while discovering who she is; #8 (Claire Saunders) is a bit of a dreamer, sensitive, with significant trauma in her past; #46 (Caitlin Zoz) is the socially awkward new girl, who comes in and rattles the team dynamics; and Megan Byrne (Soccer Mom) delivers a powerful ending to an already formidable piece.

I find it interesting that the director of this piece is a man (Eric Ort), but having a woman on as assistant director (Taneisha Duggan) helps to preserve the female perspective. Although, this is such a strong script that the female viewpoint is easy to sustain, regardless of the director’s gender.  With a simple set made up of astroturf and soccer uniforms for costumes, it requires the focus be on the girls’ stories, which is the point, frankly.  I also loved the pro-woman soundtrack of pre-, post-, and transition songs – shout out for choosing a Bikini Kill/Kathleen Hanna track!

Production Artistic Director, Rog Ruggiero, points out that DeLappe writes “as people talk, not as we think they talk,” which is exactly how the audience can believe that this play is something that could’ve happened in any American suburb setting yesterday, away from the prying eyes and ears of the soccer moms and dads. This mastery of adolescent language is no small feat, and it makes the overall piece that much more compelling.  Overall, The Wolves is a fantastic night of poignant, persuasive theater; what an exceptional ensemble of passionate performers!

Photo: “The Wolves,” by Sarah DeLappe, about a group of soccer-playing high-school girls, has its Connecticut premiere at TheaterWorks through Nov. 5. (Lanny Nagler)