– By Cate Marquis –
St. Louis is a soccer city (although the MLS sees unaware of this), so there could not be a better place to stage “The Wolves,” Sarah DeLappe’s play about a girls’ soccer team, which is running in the Repertory Theater of St. Louis’ Studio space through Feb. 3. The play, which won the , focuses on the nine girls in the Wolves soccer team as they prepare for several games.
Melissa Rain Anderson directs THE WOLVES, which follows the team through the semester, as they battle to finish the season on top, and the lives of the girls, or at least the portion they share as they warm up for each game. The action takes place on scenic designer James Wolk’s clever set, a long strip of turf that resembles the edge of a soccer pitch, with the audience seated on either side. The play is perfectly suited to the flexible Rep Studio, an intimate space that can be transformed in many ways. The setting is simple but placing it in the middle of the audience gives it room for the sometimes overlapping interactions. Scenes generally take place as the girls are warming up before a game. Before each game, the girls gather in a huddle and chant “we are The Wolves,” just before they take the field.
THE WOLVES is very much a “girl power” play – and a very engrossing one – but it is also a play for anyone, which anyone can enjoy. The play has a remarkable sense of the real world, in the way the girls talk and act with each other, and their various personalities. Many women, even if she did not play soccer, or any sport for that matter, will find echoes of their own teen-aged years, as the group dynamics and personality types are found in many high school clubs or organizations. On the other hand, the fact that the girls in this play mostly attend the same private school and come from relatively privileged backgrounds put them and their worries in a particular subset of that experience. Boys, and grown men, who may have wondered what teen girls talk about when they are not around (or falsely assumed it was them), will get a more accurate peek into some of those conversations in THE WOLVES.
The girls are identified in the program notes only by their jersey numbers, although by the play’s end we do know a few names. What transpires during the play reflect what might happen in the course of any high school semester but is also specific to these characters.
Rachael Logue plays the team captain, number 25, who is a good leader but very focused on the game and team. Esmeralda Garza plays the goalie, number 00, one of the teams stars. She is such a perfectionist and so focused before the game, that she won’t speak, gripped by a kind of stage fright. The team’s other star player is number 7 (Keaton Whittaker), a bold, in-your-face blonde, who is best friends with curly-haired number 14 (Cassandra Lopez), sometimes forming a mean girl team. The team jokester is number 13, (Maya Christian, the cast’s sole African American), who is flippant, teasing, and boundlessly energetic. Sometimes her kidding around amplifies another’s teasing but just as often it diffuses tensions in the group.
The rest of the team is comprised of Cecily Dowd as number 2, a sincere girl wrapped up in social activist projects, Colleen Dougherty as number 8, a bouncy, high-energy girl who is oblivious to how she misuses words, and CeCe Hill as number 11, who only parts with her headphones and backpack for soccer. It is clear all these girls have been together as a team a long time, although they may not see each other away from soccer games. Now, a new girl has joined the group, number 46 (Mary Katharine Harris). The newcomer is socially awkward and she seems strange to them, with #8 whispering to her teammates that she lives in a “yogurt” when she means a yurt. Still, the new girl is a very good soccer player, even thought she says she’s never been on a team.
Rounding out the cast is Nancy Bell, who plays a soccer mom who shows up late in the play. Apart from that one adult, the play is only the girls and their interactions and concerns. The girls’ concerns are often mundane but they are also universal in many ways. Much of what occurs could take place among any group of teen-aged girls. At the same time, it is specific to this time and this group.
There is the brassy loud mouth, the jokester, the super-serious focused one, the new girl who doesn’t fit in. There is the team captain, the star player, the insensitive girl, the sincere social activist, the inseparable best friends. Sometimes they are mean, sometimes they are supportive, sometimes they are wrong-headed or naive, but in the end they come together for the team. While the types are familiar, these girls are also their own specific individuals, with their own particular stories. What unite these diverse personalities is their love of the game, and their commitment to their team.
The young cast do a great job with the material, in scenes where that are sometimes several conversations going at once. Besides crafting the characters and the dynamics between them, the young cast have to do that while engaging in soccer drills or stretching exercises, no small feat. The physical challenges in this play are considerable, and the cast carries it off with winning style.
THE WOLVES is a unique. moving production, and one of the best of the Studio production this year. It has delights for any soccer fan, for those who enjoy good realist drama and any one who was once a teenage girl.
© Cate Marquis