Reviewed by George Basler
In writing The Wolves, Sarah DeLappe said she “wanted to see a portrait of teenage girls as human beings — as complicated, nuanced, very idiosyncratic people who aren’t just girlfriends or sex objects or manic pixie dream girls, but who are athletes and daughters and students and scholars and people who were trying actively to figure out who they were in this changing world around them.”
That’s a laudable goal, and DeLappe certainly deserves respect for avoiding clichés present in too many Hollywood movies.
At the same time, The Wolves is a decidedly unconventional work. The play, which focuses on the interactions of players on an women’s soccer team, is short on plot (all the major action takes place off stage) and leaves its characters at an arm’s length from the audience. DeLappe’s enigmatic writing also requires the audience to fill in some gaps.
The acting and physical demands placed on the 10-person cast make it a challenge to stage, but that didn’t stop Binghamton University’s Theatre Department from tackling the play as the first production of its 2019-20 season. It opened this past week (Oct. 17-19).
The production deserves credit on several fronts. The cast members bring energy and solid acting skills to their roles, and director Anne Brady, who is head of acting and directing at BU, has paced the action well. Moreover, she has convincingly choreographed the team’s warm-up exercises and practice passes so cast members believably look like a soccer team made up of 16- and-17-year-old girls.
The play is set in the warm-up area of an indoor soccer facility as members of the Wolves soccer team prepare for games. Over a series of scenes, they engage in scattershot, sometimes scatological, banter on topics ranging from the trivial — zits and their coach’s early Saturday morning hangovers — to the serious — pregnancy, abortion, drug use and genocide (yes, genocide).
Gradually, the audience gets to know something about each of the characters who are identified by the numbers of their jerseys, never their names.
DeLappe’s play, which is her debut effort, has been highly praised since it premiered off-Broadway in 2016. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Yale Drama Series Prize for drama. And, without question, the playwright, who is only in her late 20s, is a promising new talent. She has a way of writing realistic dialogue that always seems natural, never forced or artificial. The interplay among the teammates, which heavily uses overlapping conversations, makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping on teenage girls going through the angst of adolescence.
Still, The Wolves never fully engaged me emotionally. While the play raises a series of issues, DeLappe never delves into the soccer players in any great depth, making it difficult to care about their problems. She seems more interested in maintaining realism and a hyper-kinetic energy level than in character development.
That said, DeLappe deserves credit for her realistic portrayal of youth sports and young people at a time of their lives when they hover between adolescence and maturity. The BU audience seemed fully engaged the night I was there. Many gave the cast a standing ovation at the end of the performance.
That’s something I can certainly agree with. The actors make a standout ensemble and deserved the applause. Their teamwork is absolutely first rate.
Standouts included Catherine Calidonna as a naïve do-gooder who suffers from a hidden eating disorder, Allison Kujawa as a new girl trying to fit in with her teammates and Abigail Lane as the team’s star, who suffers a debilitating injury that quashes her dream but makes her a more human person.
Claire Kazami Marshall has a strong moment as a stressed-out overachiever who has a solitary emotional meltdown. For some reason, which is never explained, the meltdown provides relief. Again, this is an example of how the audience must fill in the gaps.
In the end, The Wolves is a play that can be admired even if you feel it is falls short in some areas.
IF YOU GO: The Wolves will be performed through this weekend in the Studio A Theater of the Fine Arts Building at Binghamton University. Evening performances Wednesday-Saturday (Oct. 23-26) are at 8 p.m.; matinees on Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 26-27) are at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Anderson Center box office, calling 607-777-2787 or visiting bit.ly/bingu-tix