“The Wolves” Howl is Pitch-Perfect
Photo by William Clark, courtesy of Jungle Theater
“The Wolves” sounds almost too mundane to be interesting—it's 90 minutes of a high school girls’ soccer team stretching and talking. However, if this is the one play of 2017-18 season of the Jungle Theater that artistic director Sarah Rasmussen chooses to direct, it must be pretty good, right? After seeing it on one of its last preview nights (with its official run March 31-April 29), I can say with certainty that yes, it is pretty good. Better than that, even. After the last scene’s lights cut off into darkness and the clapping began, my heart’s investment in the play surprised me as much as it evoked my feelings.
Set against an unchanging set of soccer turf that is both floor and backdrop (by costume and scenic designer Sarah Bahr), the first scene is, as will become quite familiar by the end of the play, the soccer players of this all-woman cast sitting on the ground, stretching. The characters are introduced in overlapping, cacophonous conversations, and at first, they seem to fall into neat little stereotypes: the hang-10 jock, the naive Christian, the new girl, the one who is wreckless, swearing, and a little hurt. But then, through Sarah DeLappe’s gorgeous script and the superlative acting of the cast—eight of which are making their Jungle debut with this play—the jokes, misunderstandings, soccer rituals, and small talks flesh them out into nine, individuals we care about.
Whether it’s from the character’s own actions, the gossip surrounding them, confrontations or off-to-the-side comments, you see past each character’s public personality and get a glimpse of who they really are. They become an equal part of the team and the play, no matter how many lines they actually have. (And as you’ll see in one solo scene, sometimes you don’t need words at all.)
DeLappe’s Pulitzer finalist dialogue was effortless in what it put in and what it left out, and for what it did leave out, you could see it played across the actors’ faces. Oftentimes, the actors would look out into the audience, staring at an opposing team or the sidelines, and you could see the emotion in facial nuances no matter where you were sitting in the Jungle’s small auditorium.
As a person who was in junior high, just like the Wolves, six years ago, I naturally did the whole “Is this relatable?” game. And some things weren't, not because they were overblown or unrealistic, but because I never had the drive of doing athletics in college, the uncomfortable memories of being taken advantage of, nor the heartbreak that can visit far too soon when your future doesn't look like you envisioned.
What did spark my memories was the glee when the teammates gathered around the bag of orange slices a soccer mom brought to the game. The awkwardness of being the new person around a group of friends who grew up together. The duality of feeling so jealous of someone while being proud of them at the same time.
“The Wolves” is so much more than a play written by a woman, directed by another, and featuring an all-woman cast and majority-woman crew team. While underrepresentation and unequal treatment make this a feat that deserves a mention, you shouldn’t see this play just because of its gender ratio—certainly, that’s not the only reason Rasmussen lobbied so much for the Jungle to gain the rights for it. “The Wolves” is about life and yes, the things that young women face every day. It’s not only for women, though. This play is for everyone, and the way its unassuming story plays out is an unworked gem glinting at you in the dusk.