[warning: this review contains spoilers]
Life is full of surprises. Sometimes, you walk into a room expecting a theatre and get a soccer field instead.
Such is the case for The Wolves, a play by Sarah DeLappe receiving its Chicago premiere at the Goodman Theatre, directed by Vanessa Stalling. Set design by Collette Pollard nails every detail of an indoor soccer stadium, from the exact shade of green of artificial turf to the cheap white ceiling fans spinning overhead to the black nets separating the actors from the audience. I began having flashbacks to following my sister around her indoor soccer tournaments as a child.
Luckily, The Wolves is far more fascinating than my sister’s games, which typically bored me to death. The play has exactly my preferred number of male characters—that is to say, none. A spectacular ensemble of young women portray the members of The Wolves, a high school indoor soccer team who have been playing together since childhood. The cast is bursting with energy, both in their strong acting choices and in their frequent physical feats, with actors performing soccer drills and skills throughout the ninety-minute production.
DeLappe’s writing style contains something of Annie Baker’s hypernaturalism. Although less poetic and much faster-paced than Baker’s writing, DeLappe captures overlapping conversations, half-spoken truths, and meaningful silences in much the way that Baker does. The script contains verisimilitude in droves, whether it’s in the ecstatic response to receiving the team’s favorite treat, orange slices, or the clumsy, awkward way the mostly-white team talks about race.
A story about teenage girls does not require death to have weight. #25’s budding romantic relationship with another girl carries weight; #14’s possible sexual assault and collapsed friendship with #7 carry weight; #46’s struggle to fit in with the team after a lifetime of constant moves carries weight; #00’s crippling social anxiety carries weight. Each girl on the team carries multiple burdens, past and present, and the rich nuances of their personalities and relationships is the most satisfying part of the play.
Which is why it’s almost disappointing when a character dies unexpectedly after being hit by a car. Suddenly the story stops being about the lives of teenage girls and starts being about the death of one teenage girl. Sure, the event transforms the shape of the characters’ relationships to one another, but any number of events could have done that—and they do. A major injury, stress surrounding college recruitment, and just the aches and pains of growing up all contribute to major changes in the team’s dynamic, and dropping a death in at the end feels like a cheap gimmick rather than the natural conclusion of the story’s arc. See?, playwright DeLappe seems to be saying, teenage girls deal with Real Issues too!
Teenage girls absolutely deal with real issues, and their stories are absolutely important and criminally underrepresented in art, which is why so much of this play is a breath of fresh air. That final scene, though, slams the window shut and undermines the idea that high school girls’ stories are important in and of themselves, without something major like death to “elevate” them.
Still, The Wolves is excitingly different, and it’s executed nearly perfectly by the Goodman Theatre team. For all its flaws, this is a show I highly enjoyed.
Location: The Owen Theatre, the Goodman, 170 N. Dearborn
Dates: February 9 – March 18, 2018
Tickets: $10-$47. Available now at the Goodman Theatre website, by calling 312.443.3800, or at the box office, located at 170 N. Dearborn.
All photos by Liz Lauren.