7/27/2029 THE WOLVES Broadway on Demand / Lincoln Center Theatre Archives
(Sloth Alert: In 2019, Horizon Theatre produced a most excellent production of this piece. Since my reaction to this video of the original Lincoln Center production is similar, most of this is cut-and-pasted from my review of the Horizon production)
Let’s make it quite clear. This is THEIR turf! Nine High School Soccer Players, known only by their numbers. These are “The Wolves.” And they are fierce!
To my delight, the final offering from the Lincoln Center archive series is the original 2017 production of The Wolves, Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Finalist. I say this because Horizon Theatre’s 2019 staging was one of my favorite theatrical experiences of that final year before we all shut down. I anticipated (with not a little fervor) experiencing this play again. I was not disappointed.
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 was produced with a (mostly) female creative team. And it was 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 history.
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, showing a skill-level that bespeaks hours of pre-production training.
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 Laura Jellinek) – an AstroTurf-covered bare space staged as a thrust in Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre (so we catch occasional glimpses of audience members). I like how the “Soccer Choreography” keeps the team moving and stretching and showing tiny moments of skill, despite the absence of scripted “game play.” I especially like how Lila Neugebauer’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, none of whom you’ve ever heard of before or since (although they ALL have TV credits you’ve probably seen) – Lizzie Jutila (#00), Sarah Mezzanotte (#2), Brenna Coates (#7) , Midori Francis (#8), Suzannah Perkins (#11), Jenna Dioguardi (#13), Samia Finnerty (#14), Paola Sanchez Abreu (#25), Tedra Milan (#46), and Mia Barron (“Soccer Mom”) act like they’ve been together since grade school. Kudos especially to Ms. Barron, who, in the space of a single short scene gives us a truly heart-rending portrait of grief and support, and to Ms. Jutila, whose silence speaks volumes and whose “primal scream” sequence skillfully sets up the tragedy of the last scene.
So, while waiting for area theatres to fully re-open, or to just fill an empty spot on your mid-week calendar, I can’t recommend The Wolves highly enough. It is 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. It just may bring out your own primal howl.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #TheWolves #LCTArchices)
Note: The Wolves is available for FREE on-demand viewing from Broadway On Demand (using the promo code FREEWOLF. It is available until August 15.