Through discussions ranging from periods and Harry Potter to Cambodian genocide and devastating grief, a high school girls’ soccer team comes of age in Sarah DeLappe’s gripping new drama, The Wolves.
The play, a 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is compelling from the start: The stage is a circle of AstroTurf on which the players warm up and catch up before their weekly indoor soccer games. We see and hear from them only in this setting as the season progresses, while the outcomes of the games and fallout from the drama in the players’ lives happens offstage and during the week.
The characters are only identified by jersey numbers, but the talented group of actresses playing the members of the Wolves make each young woman so distinct that monikers aren’t necessary — No. 2 (Sarah Mezzanotte) is religious and kind, but struggles privately with an eating disorder; No. 7 (Brenna Coates) is the attention-seeking party girl who drinks at her dad’s empty ski house with her college-aged boyfriend; No. 25 (Paola Sanchez Abreu) is the high-strung captain, slowly and quietly discovering her sexuality; No. 46 (standout Tedra Millan) is in the uncomfortable role as the new girl on a team that’s been playing together since elementary school — and as if that weren’t enough, she’s homeschooled and a bit strange. The identifiers (or lack thereof) for these players and their other teammates are used to brilliant effect at the show’s tragic climax, when the girls mention names for the first time to refer to offstage characters and it elucidates nothing — only heightening the audience’s suspense and confusion.
As the weeks go by, we learn about the girls, their lives, and their friendships by what they say to each other — and behind their backs. They experiment with adult conversations, trying out newsy topics they’ve learned in social studies, and parroting their parents’ dinner-table opinions as they attempt to create their own. It’s fascinating to watch them slowly change week by week as relationships bloom or strain: A college scout’s arrival sends a ripple of tension into the team, while a string of victories bring them closer to their shared goal, the national championship. In a small but lovely touch, a head cold makes its way through the players week by week — mentioned a few times outright, but more often manifested by a new person speaking with a slightly stuffy nose.
The Wolves’ most impressive feat is its subtlety: DeLappe’s script is empty in all the right places, as the audience pieces together aspects of the characters’ lives from clues given by her or her teammates. Someone’s pained reaction to a joke and another’s simple, “Oh… your mom. I forgot,” can tell a more nuanced story about a girl’s past than an expository speech would. This, of course, is also a testament to both Lila Neugebauer’s direction and the cast’s innate understanding of their characters’ fears, hopes, and shifting mental states. Only one moment, towards the play’s end and featuring its sole adult character (Mia Barron), feels like it could have been handled more deftly.
Throughout, we’re rooting for The Wolves — not just to win their tournament, but to realize the potential friendships right in front of them, and to understand that this sisterhood can help them navigate life. Perhaps most importantly of all, this is a play that takes teenage girls seriously, never leaning into easy parody, but instead elevating their struggles and successes into an unforgettable, deeply moving work of drama. A-