2/3/2019        THE WOLVES                                 Horizon Theatre

 

*****  ( A+ ) 

 

WOLFPACK

The program is quite clear.  This is THEIR turf!  Nine High School Soccer Players, known only by their numbers.  These are “The Wolves.”  And they are fierce!

 

Welcome to Horizon Theatre’s 35th Anniversary Season and The Wolves, Sarah DeLappe’s 2017 Pulitzer Finalist.  Yes, it’s about Girls’ Soccer, it’s about a tribe of young women (and, at a meta-level, young actresses), it’s about character, it’s about facing the future with a little help from your friends, even if they are punk-ass mean girls.  It’s being produced with a totally female creative team. And it is a riveting experience I won’t soon forget.

 

So, we meet the Wolves as they warm up for their regular “Saturday in the Bubble” game.  They play all winter in an indoor arena.  Eight teenagers chattering and gossiping, snippets of conversation coming to us like phrases in a symphony.  A 9th young woman (#46) seems to be an outsider, trying (in vain) to join in, treated as a leper by the others, because, well, we’ve all grown up together and who does this b**** think she is?

 

Each scene carries us through the season, one week at a time, and we learn a little more about the members of the team, but it is the TEAM that is center stage, and, eventually, center field.  # 7 and # 14 have some bad blood, the sketchy details of which comes out as the season progresses.  The goalie, #00, rarely, if ever, speaks, until her “Time Out” primal scream.  # 25 is the team captain, and she tries to keep everyone focused on their warmups.  Each

“Number” reveals more and more about herself, her fears and desires, her idiosyncrasies and histories.

 

And then one (who shall remain nameless -- um, numberless -- here to avoid spoilers) is injured.  The new girl, #46, reveals herself to be better than any of them, and is soon embraced by the team.  And, finally, there is a tragedy, and we are left to play detective, wondering who will not be part of the final scene as the girls come in one-by-one.  In that scene, we learn two are actually sisters, and another finds a new zit more tragic than the death of a friend.  These are teenagers after all.  The use of the “lost” teammate’s name is no help, as we haven’t heard ANY of their actual names.  And we meet a soccer Mom, in emotional extremis, desperate to “go on” in spite of her devastating loss.

 

I really like the gradual way playwright DeLappe reveals the characters, how the first scene is a cacophony of overlapping conversations, how the team “gels” as the season progresses, how it doesn’t really matter that we don’t learn any names until the final scene (and only two names then).  I like how the actresses totally commit to this production, spending hours honing their soccer skills before learning word one of the script. Even off-stage, that commitment continued – Megan Cramer (“Soccer Mom”) revealed in a post-show Q-and-A how, even though she is only in the final scene, she made herself available backstage throughout, to help the girls with backpacks, props, and snacks.

 

I really like how the offstage characters made themselves known to us, #46’s globe-trotting Mom, #11’s therapist parents, the consistently hung-over coach, #7’s creepy boyfriend, and more.

 

I really REALLY like how all the girls, all the WOMEN, mature and develop, how they keep up an exhausting level of energy and physical stamina, how they become distinct individuals without sacrificing the distinct character of the team itself.

 

I like the simplicity of the set (by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay) – an AstroTurf-covered platform and ramp that could easily redress as a hockey rink (or a set for Agnes of God), how Mary Parker’s lights retain winter-stadium whiteness without losing amber and violet highlights to evoke mode, and how Sarah Stoffle’s “Soccer Choreography” keep the team moving and stretching and showing tiny moments of skill, despite the absence of scripted “game play,” and, especially, how Heidi Cline McKerley’s direction creates clarity out of simultaneous “teen-speak,” and “punches” moments of off-stage “plot” that need our attention.  Like a Greek Tragedy, this is a play in which a large group of women gather and talk, in which major plot conflicts and incidents happen “off,” and in which a “chorus” of voices plays the major role.

 

And, I LOVED the work of this ensemble, one of the best of the year (not 2019, but the last 12 months) – Katie Causey (#00), Anna Williford (#2), Rebeca Robles (#7) , Ebony Jerry (#8), Michelle Pokopac (#11), Shelby Folks (#13), Shannon McCarren (#14), Jasmine Thomas (#25), Erika Miranda (#46), and Megan Cramer (“Soccer Mom”) act like they’ve been together since grade school.  All started as apprentices at various theatres in the Metro Area, and most have given well-received performances in other productions over the past year or so (particularly Ms. McCarren in Picnic and Seagull, Ms. Folks also in Picnic, Ms. Thomas in Christmas at Pemberly, and Ms. Robles in Blackbird).  They have fully grown into their professional careers, and though they are all a few years past their high school days, they CONVINCED me they were teenagers.

 

So, Super Bowl Sunday was the perfect day to see this tribe, the perfect arena for a group usually omitted from “American Football.”  It is funny, aggravating, compelling, and it lands with the emotional punch of a soccer ball bicycle-kicked to the gut.  I can’t recommend it more!

 

    --  Brad Rudy  (BKRudy@aol.com   #HTCWolves)

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