Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Wolves
Jungle Theater
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's review of Something Rotten!


Michelle De Joya (foreground) and Cast
Photo by Dan Norman
Jungle Theater made a great decision in scheduling The Wolves, which just last year had two acclaimed Off-Broadway runs and was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Sarah DeLappe's first produced play is a ninety-minute long, full-on encounter with the nine members of a high school girl's indoor soccer team, the Wolves. In a succession of scenes we watch them in stretching exercises, ball-handling practice, getting psyched before a game, and regrouping afterwards. Their conversations veer between confessional, humorous, supportive and brutal as we become aware that winning the next game is a foothold for these emerging women on winning in life.

The play takes place on Sarah Bahr's sea of green AstroTurf set, with each of the girls in their Wolves uniform, but with enough oh-so subtle variations (also Bahr's work) to say something about their individuality. The undefeated Wolves are determined to take their conference title and make it to nationals in Florida. Some are counting on sports scholarships to fund their college plans. The first two conversations we hear, simultaneously, are about menstruation (pads versus tampons, the fear of blood running down their leg while on the field) and whether or not a recently tracked down perpetrator of the Khmer Rouge genocide, now in his 90s, should be granted forgiveness—this, an extension of a discussion in their social studies class in school.

Conversations in this and other scenes leapfrog around, from whether or not there is internet in Cambodia to griping about their (unseen) hungover coach, to Harry Potter and "Lord of the Rings" fandom. One girl knits scarves for an Amnesty International project, to help Central American "kids in cages." Another talks about diedinhouse.com, a website that can tell you if anyone has ever died in your home (I checked, it's a real thing, but paid service). The team captain struggles to maintain authority, addressing her collective teammates as "ladies," while she clearly has some deep insecurities of her own. A new girl on the team stands out not only by her newness, but a pronounced social awkwardness (e.g., clueless as to when to speak and when to refrain, blurting out personal information about herself or others), and also by a set of life experiences very different from the other girls who have grown up in the same middle American community. When she hears girls behind her back say that she lives in a yogurt, she corrects them, telling them it's a yurt, and tries valiantly not to be crushed by their smirks.

None of the girls are named during the scenes, being referred to by their player number, but we come to know their temperaments, get a sense of their differing histories with one another—some go way back to elementary school, some more recent, some close friends, others sniping back and forth. Director Sarah Rasmussen takes DeLappe's rapid fire dialogue—often peppered with the profanity of kids trying adulthood on for size—and manages to facilitate our awareness of who is talking to whom, even as individuals sometimes shift from one conversation to another. There are also the silences, when these young adults don't know what to say, when they are shocked or saddened or uncertain about the next step they need to take.

Along with the fierce dialogue and precise direction, the cast ensures that each of these girls stands out as a unique individual, making this one of the strongest ensemble pieces in memory. Most of the nine young actors have not been seen very much on Twin Cities' stages, but all are welcome back, often. As the new girl, #46, Megan Burns creates a fascinating and painful picture of a young person trying to maintain her identity while also trying to fit in. Meredith Casey painfully portrays #2, the girl who is eager for womanhood—to a fault—and Isabella Star LaBlanc (#00) is stunning in a solo scene, working out almost to the point of madness. Shelby Rose Richardson, as the captain, #25, is near heartbreaking as she tries to piece the private parts of her life into her public sphere. Added to these nine wonderful actors is veteran Jennifer Blagen as a Soccer Mom, mother of one of the players who, in her lone scene, reminds the audience—and those girls as well—of the adults caught between encouraging the girls' bravado and ambition, and cherishing their childhood.

Not only do these performances communicate, both in words and non-verbally, with laser-sharp range, they are physically masterful in handling the required skills. The cast began play rehearsals in February to prepare for The Wolves' March 30 opening, but began working with a pair of soccer consultants last fall, developing knowledge of the game and the ball handling skills to appear natural on stage. In one sequence they do a drill called "spider web," intricately passing the ball by foot as they change places with another player in their circle. This scene might appear improvised, but is fully choreographed, and not one of the actors misses a beat.

The Wolves has a semblance of plot, as certain relationships and future prospects for some of the girls develop during these few weeks of their indoor season. What is really at stake, though, is the balance of exhilaration and terror that are the dual companions to girls on the cusp of wommanhood, where being strong, smart, funny, attractive and popular are like Himalayan peaks to be conquered. We know, from what they say, that there is more to their lives than these soccer games, but DeLappe has been able to draw all of those facets of each girl into the face, posture and words they bring to the field. It is a marvelous feat of writing, performed with breathtaking authenticity. The Wolves deserves mighty howls of praise.

The Wolves, through April 29, 2018, at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Avenue S., Minneapolis MN. Tickets are $30.00 - $45.00. Seniors (60+) and students, through undergraduates, $5.00 discount. $25.00 public rush and $20.00 student rush (1 ticket with ID), for unsold seats two hours before performance at box office. For tickets call 612- 822-7073 or go to www.jungletheater.com.

Playwright: Sarah DeLappe; Director: Sarah Rasmussen; Set and Costume Design: Sarah Bahr; Lighting Design: Karin Olson; Sound Design: Katharine Horowitz; Wig Design: Robert Grier; Properties: John Novak; Dramaturg: Michaela Johnson; Soccer Consultant: Jennifer Larrick; Assistant Soccer Consultant: Kyle Johnson; Stage Manager: Amanda K. Bowman; Technical Director: Leazah Behren; Production Manager: Matthew Early; Assistant Director: Cara Phipps.

Cast: Chloe Armao (#14), Jennifer Blagen (Soccer Mom), Megan Burns (#46), Meredith Casey (#2), Michelle De Joya (#11), Becca Hart (#7), McKenna Kelly-Eiding (#13), Isabella Star LaBlanc (#00), Rosey Lowe (#8), Shelby Rose Richardson (#25).


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