13 March 2018

Bathed in the sterile white light unique to indoor soccer pitches, The Wolves opens with two simultaneous conversations darting between the players. Frenetic and frank, these dueling conversations quickly introduce us to the characters in a way difficult to capture on stage. As opposed to neatly framed encounters easily understood by the audience, the playwright Sarah DeLappe daringly throws her audience into the bustle of activity that defines high school girls’ soccer teams without even so much as a nod to who we are listening to.  These early conversations deftly provide broad character strokes but DeLappe’s genius really starts to shine as the rest of her play unfolds like an open study.

The Wolves stretch out before their games

Relying heavily upon simple cues such as unique hairstyles, bandanas and jersey numbers to identify the characters, Director Vanessa Stalling expertly guides the audience through the complex experience of adolescence. The frenzy of conversation between the nine girls as they stretch for their weekly indoor soccer game immediately communicates a sense of community unique to their world. While it is only passingly alluded to on a couple occasions, it is clear that the team regards each other as family, a family the audience is graciously invited to join. DeLappe has an uncanny ability to capture this unique sense of community through the excited multi-person, multi-conversation dialogue that opens the show. The pithy quips thrown between the teammates lay the groundwork for the complex set of relations the play quickly delves into.

These moments allow for audiences glean the inner workings of characters lives

Built around the premise that the audience watches the team warm up before continuing to the field itself, each scene is fueled with a powerful, almost explosive energy. Protected from the players and their warm up kicks as they are by the nets hanging throughout the Goodman Theatre, Director Stalling’s staging allows the audience to fully experience this compound energy. Punctuating scenes with fierce kicks into the net, Director Stalling expands the emotional space of the play directly into the audience in a way unique to the lived experience of the characters.

The Wolves explores a broad range of emotions from joy to shame and jealousy

Through the college recruiters, fierce competition, and internal strife that the players face, the audience comes to better understand how one feels at home in such a unique world. As only three of the nine girls are pulled aside by the recruiter from University of Texas, the audience feels the shame of rejection, but also the anticipation of success, and even the green eyed monster of jealousy. Such emotional empathy is a given after the audience’s immersion in their world; the fact that these emotions remain long after the play has ended, however, is a different matter.

While The Wolves studies a world of competitive high school sports that many of us will never know, the comedy and tragedy depicted by the characters strike a universal chord. At the end of the day, The Wolves is an excellent reflection on what it means to be a part of something larger than yourself, even when you aren’t quite sure who you are. Or, who you could be. With an impressive four out of four stars from the Chicago Tribune, this play is not to be missed.

//The Wolves closes on March 18th. Tickets for the Goodman Theatre may be found here//