‘The Wolves’ unleashes warrior women at STI
FERNDALE, Mich. —Every now and again a play comes along that makes you want to stop and replay the action in slow motion before the first act is even over. Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s current production of The Wolves, by Sarah DeLappe, is that kind of play. The script is like nothing we’ve seen before. A finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Wolves is the story of a soccer team made up of teenage girls – warriors, if you will – who battle raging hormones, insecurity, anxiety, social mores, parental expectations and peer pressure all while hoping to make it to the Nationals and maybe a college scholarship.
Think of every play, book, film or TV show about young people in high school sports — and then imagine something completely different. When we meet the nine young women who make up the Wolves (a U-17 indoor soccer team), they are doing stretching and dexterity exercises before the game. They all talk at the same time. The conversations range from biological embarrassments to the correct pronunciation of Khmer Rouge, but you can never quite follow the dialog because of all the crosstalk. Which is to say, it’s exactly how it works in the real world. In the safety zone of their pre-game stretching, it’s as if the girls have no unexpressed thoughts. And yet somehow, even with all the layers of simultaneous conversation, the script is structured so that we are able to connect the dots to form a picture of each girl’s distinct backstory and fully dimensional personality. It’s breathtaking.
This play is as hilarious, heartrending and unrelenting as life itself. And the plot of the play, if we can call it that, is revealed across a series of pre-game warm-up and practice exercises that span several weeks. It is all implied through the bits and pieces of the girls conversations, and it is absolutely mesmerizing.
Most of the girls have played soccer together for several years, although they don’t all go to the same school. A couple of them are interested in boys. One is more interested in a non-conforming girl. Some have professional parents, some have lost a parent to cancer, and some have drop-out brothers who live in the basement and deal drugs. Some are enchanted by Hobbits, Hogwarts and Disney films. Others are grappling with crippling anxiety attacks. There’s also a mysterious new girl who doesn’t quite fit the mold of the other suburban teens — a weirdness they chalk up to the fact that she’s been home-schooled while living in a yurt.
The Wolves is directed by Luna Alexander, and we can’t imagine how she worked with the cast to let the right bits of each story float to the surface and bob above the undercurrent of teenage drama. It is a credit to the director and her amazing cast of actors that we feel the energy, power and vulnerability that makes them real. They aren’t “characters” in the usual sense – there are no heroes and villains, no comic-relief clown, no sidekicks. They are simply young people on the cusp of adulthood who have good moments and bad moments. They say hurtful things without meaning to. They say hilarious things without knowing it. They can demand justice and freedom for all marginalized people and then, in the next sentence, explain that “we’re sophomores – we don’t do genocides ‘til senior year.” They reflect on death and pimples with the same sense of crushing despair.
There are many fine moments in this production that, despite of (or because of) the precisely crafted hub bub, cannot fail to delight serious theatre fans. To single out any one actor might belie what is one of the tightest ensemble performances you are likely to see this year. Tiaja Sabrie (as #13), Annie Dilworth (as #46), and Grace Jolliffe as #7 all do some incredibly heavy lifting. In the intimate Slipstream Theatre, this kind of nuanced performance is never wasted. The truth is, everyone in this cast is amazing. This also includes Alex ‘Cookie’ Isenberg as # 11, Kate Martinez as #25, Danielle Wright as #2, Isabella Weissman as #14, Kim Alley as #8. In addition to crushing it as actors, it has to be pointed out that these women perform while continuously kicking around soccer balls, performing strenuous exercise, and basically undergoing a 90-minute cardio workout. Unbelievable. Jennifer Jolliffe also makes a gem-like appearance as The Soccer Mom.
The Wolves isn’t for children — it has mature themes with some strong language. Theatre devotees need to see it. Pretty much anyone else who has ever been around teenage girls or been a teenage girl herself will love this play. Forget your Comic-Con superheroes for an evening; these women are real warriors, and they are just coming into their power. They are The Wolves – run with them while you can.
Read more about The Wolves 03/03–03/24
Read more about Slipstream Theatre Initiative