Encore Michigan

Flint Rep’s ‘The Wolves’ claws at the social fabric of women

Review February 17, 2019 Bridgette Redman

FLINT, Mich.–Given that it is only one season past being exclusively a youth theater, it isn’t terribly surprising that the ushers at the Flint Repertory Theatre warn you at the door that the current show is rated R.

Sarah Delappe’s The Wolves is littered with the f-word and deals with intense and often controversial subjects. Yet, it is a show about youth, juniors in high school to be specific, and is as authentic and appropriate as the musical Spring Awakening. It’s a show that high schoolers should see, especially young women.

Directed by Kathryn Walsh, The Wolves, is a fast-moving drama performed by nine highly athletic actors (a tenth performer, the soccer mom, makes a late appearance in the show). These women are in almost constant motion as the play takes place during their warm-ups for indoor winter soccer games. Walsh tightly choreographs every scene with the soccer players as they perform their exercises in unison, triple claps marking the transitions between each one.

The play opens with a cacophony of conversations, the women talking about sanitary napkins, the Khmer Rogue, and their hungover coach. From this cauldron of personalities in motion wafts fragrant images of young women coming of age.

The relationships are varied—some have known each other a long time, others are brand new to the group—and Delappe never falls into easy archetypes even as she, Walsh, and the actors create distinct characters with individual needs and motivations.

While they are fierce women, independent and strong, they have a clear need for each other. Yes, they are a team for the purposes of playing soccer, but they are also a pack and together they share, wonder, fight, play and do the work of becoming adults. Yes, they all have parents with varying degrees of involvement—most are highly invested in their children’s success—but none are intimate with their issues and all are on the periphery of their lives, unable to crack through the shell of adolescence. When a parent does show up on the stage, eager to comfort them, to guide them, she is singularly unable to relate to or connect with them. Walsh expertly blocks the scene to underline the gulf between the young women and the soccer mom.

All of them are identified by their jersey number, which is appropriate given how much of an ensemble piece this is. No one stands out as a lead—each has their role and their “moments” often overlap each other.

Farrell Sloan Tatum plays #25, the team captain who tries, in the absence of an involved coach, to keep the team focused and working, and more importantly to cut off the most toxic of behaviors. Patty Malaney’s #7 walks a tight balance between being the bad girl and being vulnerable, a role that hearkens to Rizzo in Grease, except more deeply layered and complex.

As the newcomer, Claire Jolliffe’s #46 helps the audience integrate into this fierce group of girls, first as the outsider who wants to fit in and finally as one of the team who belongs in her own way.

It’s a play that passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. There is scant mention of boys and only in peripheral ways as they make the women grapple with pressing issues. These are women who exist for their own reasons, not as adjuncts to any man whether it be boyfriend, brother, father, or even coach.

Gene Oliver as scenic designer transformed one of Flint Rep’s two stages to create a soccer warm-up stage, placing audiences on either side, sitting in risers on the stage. The setup let the actors kick balls with ease and made the set feel realistic. It was easy to forget at times that you were watching a play rather than just a soccer practice.

There is no intermission in this 90-minute play and it moves quickly with actors constantly on the run, constantly in motion. Walsh expertly directs this, keeping the energy high and then jolting the audience with sudden moments of silence and stillness.

The Wolves is a play about pain, loss, trauma, teamwork, friendships and growing up. It is not surprising that this slice-of-life play earned DeLappe a Pulitzer nomination and Flint Reparatory Theater’s production crackles with life and energy.

Click here for show days, times and details.https://www.encoremichigan.com/shows/the-wolves-02-08-02-17/