Playwright: Sarah DeLappe
At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: 312-443-3800; GoodmanTheatre.org; $10-$47. Runs through: March 11
Look for ensemble dramas centered on sports teams and you'll find the playing field is almost exclusively male. The rabid soccer fans of Among the Thugs, the baseball players of Damn Yankees and Take Me Out, the wrestlers of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deitythey're all-boys clubs. Plays about women in sports are far and few between.
The dearth of plays about female sports teams gives Sarah DeLappe's The Wolves a leg up in terms of sheer originality. But there's far more to the Goodman Theatre production than representation. Running through March 11, The Wolves is a cracking fine drama staring a team of varsity-level players.
DeLappe structures the play in brief scenes, each one unfurling as the women warm up for a game. Both physically and emotionally, director Vanessa Stalling's ensemble excellent. The precision in the team's athleticism makes the group feel like a single organism, yet every player is singular.
Defined by kamikaze bursts of overlapping dialogue, The Wolves celebrates female bonding and athleticism, without shying away from the underbelly of teen spirit. Along with its "I-am-woman" roar, The Wolves shows the petty gossip, micro-aggressions, casual racism, and unthinking classism that's embedded in any high school peer group.
There's not much plot in DeLappe's 90-minute drama and an 11th hour tragedy feels tacked on by a playwright who couldn't figure out quite how to end things. Even so, personalities rather than actions propel The Wolves. From the take-no-shit authority of the team captain ( Isa Arciniegas ) to the hamfisted attempts of the new girl ( Erin O'Shea ) to fit in, the Wolves are as memorable as they are believable.
Throughout, The Wolves offers a microcosm of the world at large. Abortion, religion, genocide, human rights, international politics and the benefits of tampons vs. pads all come to fray, addressed by the teenage players with a mix of startling wisdom and ( sometimes ) ignorance. Through it all, you can practically feel the bonds that link these young women, even when they're at each other's throats.
Technically, The Wolves is a marvel. Delivering lines while in perpetual motion is no small task, but Stalling's cast makes it look easy. Standouts include Taylor Blim as a player whose sunny attitude camouflages the eating disorder. Angela Alise scores as a taciturn goalie who vomits before every game. O'Shea's athletic prowess makes her depiction of a soccer prodigy wholly believable. And as the team captain whose new haircut signals the onset of a budding romance with a girl who isn't on the team, Arciniegas is a nuanced mix of vulnerability and authority.
Set designer Collette Pollard has created an actual soccer field in the Owen, complete with netting that prevents the audience from getting whacked by a flying soccer ball. It looks absolutely authentic.
The Wolves is an automatic must-see for anyone who thrived ( or just plain survived ) high school PE classes and/or the rigors of competitive sports teams. But it will be just as intriguing for life-long klutzes who can't tell the difference between a striker and a strikeout.
Related link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/THEATER-Soccer-is-in-play-as-Goodman-kicks-off-The-Wolves/61916.html .