I’ve been eagerly awaiting The Wolves since it was being produced by The Playwrights Realm in New York City in 2016. Apparently, so was Studio Theatre, who’s held onto the rights to have the D.C. premiere for about two years. Edgy, new plays aren’t rare for the stages of Studio, so in that classification The Wolves feels like a natural fit for the theatre, but seeing the play up in their Stage 4 space still feels like a refreshing, unique experience. The Wolves is, fittingly, Studio Theatre’s entry into the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival. Maybe it’s the fact that this play is written by a woman, directed by a woman, performed by a cast of all woman, and a large chunk of their production team is female. This doesn’t just feel special for Studio Theatre, but for theatre period.
The premise of The Wolves is a fun one, especially for any woman who played soccer in their youth or any parent who stood on the sidelines, devoting their weekends to watching their daughters conquer the field. It focuses on a group of 16-year-old girls who are part of a winter indoor soccer league. Each scene takes place on a Saturday, when the team meets to practice or play rival teams in the hopes of a gameday victory and getting that elusive college soccer scholarship. While there are definitely some archetypes that come across in this group of young women (the naïve one, the tough girl, the sidekick, the newcomer, the shy one), playwright Sarah DeLappe does a great job of not having the dialogue feel like cliché “teen speak”—it’s not all boys and selfies (though both make an appearance). These teammates, chatting as they warm up, talk their way through foreign affairs, schoolwork, parent problems, weekend plans and the requisite sports shit talk. The best thing this play does is show a full picture of life as a teenage girl, they can be petty and superficial and they can also be inquisitive, compassionate and ultimately they can be fierce, focused warriors on the field.
In this staging, the audience is set up like spectators on the bleachers on either side of the astroturfed stage. The upside to this set up is you feel like there’s an immediate awareness of place when you enter the theatre. Director Marti Lyons creates the intimacy of feeling like you’re a fan watching this team. You’re already set up to root for the Wolves. You can’t take your eyes off these athletes, because that’s what they are, not just actors. The play had a movement choreographer (Stephanie Paul) and the good work shows in the seamless integration of soccer warm ups, drills, and noodling around with the ball that look completely natural. This is a play that focuses on physical awareness with the same artful delicacy as the dialogue. An injury packs the same emotional punch as when one player yells at another for not having her back in a situation off the field. The downside of this naturalistic staging is that a few times when the girls were warming up in a circle, the same girls always had their backs to me so I didn’t see their facial expressions and ultimately felt distant and detached from their character, like I’d missed pivotal information.
Ultimately, this show is a triumph of ensemble, as almost every girl on this team felt fully realized, even when they were only referred to by their uniform number. The only times characters felt murky to me was during the previously mentioned staging, and one other silent scene when one of the players gets her aggression out on the field by ferociously warming up and then kicking the balls as hard as she can into the shadow of offstage. This scene felt odd for a few reasons: it’s the only scene with only one of the players on stage the whole time and it’s entirely physical so there’s a weight put on the emotion and action that don’t feel entirely earned or explained. After the scene, it becomes obvious they needed it for a costume change and/or because the tone of the play changes, but it also feels a bit like a misdirect of a character. It doesn’t give much insight into that girl in general, beyond that she can be shy but still very physical. The real gut punch of the play, which comes at the end, involves one of the teammates the audience gets to know the best.
Another moment that took me out is when an adult figure makes an appearance towards the end of the play. This should be a jarring moment, but it initially feels confusing because the woman cast looks as youthful as the girls. I felt myself taken out of the play not knowing if it was another soccer player or a parent and it would have been an easy fix with an older actress. Beyond this one outlier, this show was impeccably cast by Telsey + Company, known for their stellar casting for Broadway and film. The girls have a great competitive and collaborative chemistry. They argue and banter and prod each other like true teenagers and teammates.
The Wolves is not only a worthy addition to the Festival, but to Studio Theatre’s canon of productions. May they do more shows with predominately (and perhaps all) female casts and crew again, especially ones that speak to the young female experience. They’ve already taken another great step in the right direction by hiring The Wolves playwright Sarah DeLappe as a commissioned playwright for the theatre. Not only is it awesome that Studio is throwing their support behind a young, female playwright but it’s also dead smart because The Wolves is DeLappe’s debut, and if this show is any indication, she’s a ferocious talent that is, dare I say, a game winning goal scorer for Studio Theatre.