Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves” is an enthralling ode to girlhood.
The Pulitzer Prize-nominated play was DeLappe’s first, premiering September 2016 in New York City. It presents the interactions between members of the Wolves, an indoor soccer team of teenagers. It is presented by the College of Charleston in Piccolo Spoleto Festival's Stelle di Domani series.
Nothing really happens on the stage carpeted in soccer turf and curtained with a large safety net (scenic design by Jay Olvera). Instead, “The Wolves” is a character study exploring the dynamics of nine teenage girls from different schools and backgrounds who come together to form a team. The AstroTurf proves to be a perfect setting for the convergence of their developing personalities.
The play, directed by Glenda Byars, radiates adolescent eagerness and heartbreak. The teenagers are dealing with pimples, closeted eating disorders, budding sexuality, abortions and the pronunciation of "Khmer Rouge." They’re brash and unapologetic as they storm the field in brightly colored cleats and polyester soccer uniforms (costume design by Padgett Skardon).
Other times the teammates sit in a circle for their regular stretching routine. They are warming up their bodies, but their conversations already are full force with overlapping dialogue and interjections. They’re as green as the turf they play on, but speak with a confidence quintessential to adolescence, in a way that dares the audience to disagree with them.
But these young women are not naive or superficial. They rule the world, their world. Their power ebbs and flows as they discover one another’s insecurities or share in newfound knowledge.
The play is an ensemble piece and works best when all nine players are onstage, but each actress is distinctive. Paige Bergen as the stand-offish “too-cool-for-school” striker brings a pained control to her character, especially following a devastating injury that leaves her benched for their last game. Abbi Perry is convincing as the awkward, new home-schooled girl, who lives in a yurt (or, "yogurt," as her teammates call it) and doesn’t quite pick up on all the nuanced social cues that come from being well socialized.
There are times throughout when the actors seem to be reciting lines, as if trying their best to get in each “like” written in the script, which results in slightly forced dialogue. This seems to happen most in scenes with only two characters (though these scenes also feel the most intimate thanks to warm, shadowy lighting by Jordan Benton.)
By the end of the show, each girl is holding her emotions close to her chest following a tragic accident that comes across as an unoriginal plot device. And while we don’t know the true aftermath of the tragedy, we see the young women finding solace in their team as they huddle together, arms draped over each others’ backs, chanting with increasing intensity until they are screaming at the top of their lungs: “We are the Wolves! We are the Wolves!”
Additional performances of “The Wolves” are 7:30 p.m. May 27, May 28, May 29 at the Chapel Theatre, 172 Calhoun St. For more information, go to www.piccolospoleto.com or call 843-724-7305.
Reviewer Madalyn Owen is a Goldring arts journalist at Syracuse University.