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Reviewed by:
  • The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe
  • Jared Strange
THE WOLVES. By Sarah DeLappe. Directed by Nell Bang-Jensen. Philadelphia Theatre Company, Philadelphia. Livestreamed, December 14, 2020.

There were times when Philadelphia Theatre Company’s (PTC’s) The Wolves could be quite overwhelming. The production was streamed into homes everywhere following the cancellation of its indoor engagement early in the pandemic, a move that forced the nine girls on its eponymous indoor soccer team off the stage and into all-too-familiar Brady Bunch Zoom boxes. Playwright Sarah DeLappe’s symphony of teenage chatter, rarely limited to a single conversational stream, now gushed out of a wall of talking heads. Throughout the opening minutes of my first viewing, my eyes darted back and forth across my laptop screen in a mostly futile attempt to identify who was talking and to whom. Eventually, my attention rested on lonely #46 (Emma Lenderman), occupying the center box with a quiet desperation akin to my own. I later came to appreciate her astute positioning: it alerted me to the sense of isolation that this production brought out in DeLappe’s play that others might not have.

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The nine members of the Wolves, an indoor soccer team, pose for a photograph using orange slices brought by #14’s mom. This is a screenshot from the streaming production of The Wolves, presented by Philadelphia Theatre Company. (Source: Chris Swetcky was the director of photography.)

Prior to viewing PTC’s version, I would have said that any successful production of The Wolves depends on an abundance of space and respect for how it shapes the girls’ sociality. In her preface to the Overlook Press edition, DeLappe highlights the importance of the indoor arena in which the play takes place, noting that it both insulates the Wolves from the outer world, for good and for ill, and gives them a slice of AstroTurf to call their own. The play unfolds across that turf through a series of pre-match warm-up sessions. Each session acts as a slice of the team’s life, showcasing, among other things, the integration of a new member, the breakdown of a friendship, the rising stakes of each [End Page 249] subsequent game, and the aftermath following the death of a teammate. Embodied in this production by an excellent cast under the direction of Nell Bang-Jensen, the girls use these sessions to negotiate the slippery terrain of late adolescence: sexual maturation and its horrors, pressure to achieve on the pitch and in life, the politics of post-genocide Cambodia, and so on. Despite being known primarily by their squad numbers, each girl is distinctly drawn, albeit with the aid of archetypal shaping. #7 (Hannah Gaffney) is talented, tough, and crass; she and able sidekick #14 (Iraisa Ann Reilly) clash with #25 (Tori Lewis), the driven and dutiful captain. #8 (Margaret Morgan) is earnest and willfully childish, unlike #11 (Donovan Lockett), the daughter of therapists and the picture of “mature for her age.” #13 (Annika Cowles) self-consciously leans into her goofiness, while #2 (Alison Ormsby) and #00 (Michelle Tsai) occupy the outskirts of the group, the former religious and possibly anorexic, the latter overcommitted and anxious. Then there is #46, the perennial new girl, whose cockeyed perspective and air of mystery belie a natural talent for the Beautiful Game. Apart from the grief-stricken Soccer Mom (Leah Walton) who appears in the final scene, the girls’ huddle exists undisturbed by outsiders.

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Hannah Gaffney (#7), Michelle Tsai (#00), and Tori Lewis (#25) in a promotional photograph for The Wolves, presented by Philadelphia Theatre Company. (Photo: Anthony Werhun.)

While we never see them in action on the pitch, having the space to literally stretch out typically gives the play both its athletic bona fides and that sense of insularity. The Goodman Theatre’s 2018 production in Chicago, for example, staged the play in its arena space and employed a low wall and nets around the stage, outlining the girls’ bubble and allowing them to kick the ball with little fear of causing an incident. Naturally, PTC’s Zoom setup could...


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pp. 249-251
Launched on MUSE
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