Energy, speed, intimacy score win for ‘The Wolves’

Not for a single scene does The Wolves lessen its speed and lucidity. The second you enter CenterStage at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, the tempo is high. The stage has been restructured to be in the middle of the space covered with AstroTurf, with bleachers on both sides. You are no longer in Williamstown in its last autumn days, but in the indoor soccer field of a Middle America high school girls’ soccer club.

The team counts on nine players that are constantly kicking, passing and dribbling a soccer ball. Just like the ball is tossed around with an extreme sense of fluidity and precision, so is the dialogue. The opening scene is a series of warm-up drills anyone that had to get up early on Saturday morning for club practices knows well. But every pass is accompanied by dialogue between the players. The writer of this 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist play, Sarah DeLappe, successfully introduces each character by casual reactions, ticks, humor and degree of sportsmanship. The usual routine of morning soccer practice has been magnified and presented to us. The conversations between players, always so distant and seemingly quiet from the bleachers, are now a couple of yards away from us. Through this lens is where the degree of humanity and sensibility, usually blind to the fans as a result of the AstroTurf, comes through.

The play is split into several of these exchanges, all right before a game. The team reflects about last week’s victories and losses, with each of these periods culminating in a crescendo of suspense and emotion as the referee’s whistle rings off stage, the players freeze and the scene ends. The audience follows the team through the victories and losses of the season, and the dramas in the lives of each player. Player #46 (we are never told the names of the players), performed by Maia Czaikowski ’20, is the new kid in town, humorously struggling to understand the simplicities of suburban life after traveling the world with a very eccentric mother. Player #7, played by Isabel Ouweleen ’21, is adjusting to a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend who has moved to college. And the goalie, #00, performed by Valeria Baltodano ’20, copes with a great deal of anxiety off and on the field that takes a significant toll on her. All nine carry their own issues and traumas onto the field that sometimes spark tensions right before games.

There are countless movies and performances focusing on the story of a team of misfits coming together to excel in a sport to the highest level. Then there are works that focus mostly on the drama off the field and use the sport as one of many plot mechanisms. Many teenage soap operas follow said recipe, one example being One Tree Hill. However, The Wolves is no soap opera. This is not a story about finding love, or what it takes to be the best in soccer. Rather, this is a depiction of nine young women enjoying playing together, growing up together and supporting each other, through the little everyday battles of being in high school. Regardless of how comical or rude it may seem, each note of dialogue is intimate. When the team takes selfies with oranges in their mouths, one cannot help but feel like an intruder because of the harsh intimacy between the audience and the players, specially created by the wonderful scenic design of John Rodriguez ’18.

That every single character on stage is also a woman further breaks from the mold of the clichéd sports genre. Very rarely do we get a play, or film, of all female athletes, and it is even rarer where the issues of being a female athlete are presented without euphemism or allegory. Both the directing and the performance illustrate a great care to this. The player acted by Caroline Fairweather ’20 is adept in displaying the successes, reluctances and shortcomings of wanting to be a respected captain and a well-liked friend and not ever wanting to seem overly-aggressive or bossy when her leadership is tested.

Her leadership is severely tried, and so is the commitment to the team by all of the other players, when the play delivers a great incident. Through raw depictions of pain and coping, The Wolves makes it clear that, although there are thousands of teams like this one, there is still something quite powerful and unique about the path to healing and coming together beyond a soccer game. Unlike sports soap operas, there is no knight in shining armor who will take the girls far away from their problems. The team must stay and finish high school, their post-graduation life still unclear. But they do not face their own tiny daily battles alone. The teammates keep each other strong and sane.

The Wolves is a poignant look into the lives of nine female soccer players as they navigate their way through adolescence. Photo courtesy of Keith Foreman.