By Cayleigh Boniger
With the resounding success of the U.S. Women’s soccer team and their dramatic win of the World Cup, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have become household names. But what kind of drama happens off the field? What is it like for young women to try and break into this highly competitive world? Sarah DeLappe’s play The Wolves, performed at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and directed by Rachel Stevens, explores the action playing out just off the field of a high school girls’ soccer team.
The Wolves are a team of nine high school girls as they stretch and warm up for the games of their indoor season. None of them are named; the audience knows them only by their jersey number, but this does not mean that they are devoid of personality. Quite the opposite. Their rapid-fire conversations quickly reveal their varied and sometimes conflicting characters. Just as there are no names, the play does not present a conventional plot, but a story–many stories–still unfolds as the girls prepare for game after game.
Although the girls discuss a lot of deep and depressing subjects – the play opens with the girls discussing genocide in Cambodia – they are also just ordinary teenagers who get up to some pretty zany antics that provide quick comic relief. At one point, two of the girls start to do an insane interpretive dance around the stretching circle while singing the main Lord of the Rings theme music. In a beautiful touch of direction, the stretching and warm-ups also seem to reflect the state of the team’s unity. At the top of the production, their movements are synced precisely as they move from stretch to stretch, but as they argue and struggle among each other, their transitions are sloppier. By the end, when they struggle through an unexpected tragedy, the girls pull together, their motions synced once more.
Now, just because The Wolves focuses on teens does not mean it is reduced to teenage shenanigans. Every one of these young women has been traumatized in some way by soccer. The threat of severe physical injuries with lifelong health complications hovers over them constantly, like concussions or torn muscles. Those who manage to come away without injuries are subject to severe psychological pressure that come from parental expectations and the strain of competition in trying to earn college scholarships.
In fact, for most of the play, the game does more to pull them apart than to bring them together. As soon as any camaraderie is achieved, the moment is broken by someone snapping over insensitive comments. But they are not called the Wolves for nothing. Though the environment can be toxic, the team and their shared hardships and their love of the game proves to be the thing that saves them. They are a pack; they are a family.
Just as soccer is a team sport that utilizes all of its players to achieve the best successes, Stevens’ production features an incredibly strong team of actors that all deserve recognition for the skill and talent they bring to the stage. Their natural chemistry together allows them to create convincing and poignant relationships between their characters. Besides the normal demands on an actor to deftly blend moments of gravity and hilarity, they also display excellent ball/soccer skills while maintaining the pace of their conversations and without losing their breath. The cast are not just actors playing at being soccer players – they look like genuine players.
The personalities crafted by the actors are further emphasized by Dianela Gil’s subtle choices in costuming and Nicole Perrone’s prop design. Though the girls are uniformed, their indoor cleats give away little details about them: many of them wear flashy expensive Nikes, but 46 and 13 only have everyday sneakers to play in, hinting at the budget their parents work with at home. The water bottles the girls bring with them also reflect their identities, some plastered with stickers, while others are more practical sports style bottles. Number 11 even totes in a Hydro Flask (she sports Beats headphones later on too) – nothing but the best for her.
A production featuring so many women collaborators–from the playwright to the director to the all-female cast–and one that takes the drama of teenage girls seriously is the kind of work that needs to be championed and celebrated. Girls are more than the silly and delicate portraits that have been painted of us. We are warriors and serious competitors both on sports fields and off of them. Rapinoe and Morgan are helping to forge the way for us forward, as are the women who have worked so hard to give us this production of The Wolves, so go see what real girl power looks like.
The Wolves runs through March 8th at the Playhouse. For tickets and more info, visit Point Park’s site.
Photography Credit: John Altdorfer
Categories: Archived Reviews