Review: 'The Wolves' Gives Distaff Side Something To Howl About
The show: "The Wolves" at Hartford's TheaterWorks
What is it?: A new play by Sarah DeLappe, recently seen (and returning) off-Broadway.
What makes it special?: The show, which was a hit when it played in New York for two separate runs, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Also associate director Eric Ott makes an impressive directing bow at the theater, navigating the team and keeping all the story lines in play.
What's it about?: Nothing pressing it seems at first as the audience pretty much eavesdrops on the random chatter among a team of suburban high school girl soccer players as they warm up before a game. There's nine of them,
That's a lot of young women on stage: Yeah, and it's about time.
How will I keep track of all the characters: You might wonder that during the first five or ten minutes of the show in a chorus of layered , talk-over voices, (Adding to the challenge is the fact that the young women are mainly identified by their team numbers.) But not to worry. You will soon get to know and understand and be drawn into the lives of each and every one of these tough and tender young women as they chatter about sex, menstrual periods, the Khmer Rouge, their parents, snake-handling, the b-word and other matters both profound (to them) and silly (to us). These random adolescent howls makes the girls all of one pack, yet also specifically themselves. But it requires the audience to be attentive in order to find in these young women glimpses of pain, hope and sorrow in the smallest of gestures and the slightest of words.
DeLappe’s brilliance is that she reveals her players as they gossip, taunt, comfort and conspire not as archetypes — the smart one, the slutty one, the loner, the loudmouth, the nerd, the new kid — but as young women on the cusp of becoming their own self-defined characters, with the possibility to change, challenge and grow.
Do they play soccer?: "The Wolves" is not about how you play the game but what happens off-field. Still, these characters do a lot of warm ups and stretching and there's a physicality to the show that one does not immediately associate with an all-female cast. But there is some ball manipulation and these young actresses handle it very well. on Mariana Sanchez' smart swoop of a vibrant verdant set.
But as the players dash off and return again and again in various configurations — and as their team edges towards nationals — the specificity of the pack emerges in unexpected ways. The intimate and fleeting details of developments in the characters’ lives are so compelling that when a major dramatic occurrence happens late in the play, it’s like a jolt from another far-afield world, one that eventually bonds the team in yet another way. The final scene is a haunting echo of the first, where silence, not chatter, is what fills the air. By that time that’s more than enough to understand these fragile and fierce young women.
And most valuable player?: It's really an ensemble show but Emily Murphy is memorable as the team leader who tries to keep it all together even amid her self-doubts; also standouts are Olivia Hoffman as the tough cookie who gets sidelined and Carolyn Cutrillo whop brings humor and vulnerability as the littlest player. Karla Gallegos also has a powerful physical moment of primal emotions when there are just no words to speak of. Megan Byrne has a heart-breaking scene as the mother of one of the players.
Who will like it? Soccer girls. Soccer moms. Those who want to get into the heads of young girls.
Who won't?: Easily intimidated men.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Girl power rules with vibrant team work in fascinating slice-of-life drama. It reaches its goal in stunning ways.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: A few weeks ago I caught the all-male stage version of "A Clockwork Orange" off-Broadway. The production had a group of men playing all the characters in the Anthony Burgess story, including the women, Despite the chest thumping, the glistening abs and the flexed muscles, it's display of testosterone was for naught. There was little humor or humanity. Let's hear it for the girls.
Of note: The play is returning for a third time to New York starting Nov. 1 at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater. Perhaps it's positioning itself -- and this is the type of play that can benefit from young people's social media -- for a Broadway run in what so far is a weak season for new plays.
The basics: The show plays through Nov. 5 at 233 Pearl; St. in downtown Hartford. But keep your eye out at the theater's website. I wouldn't be surprised if this one gets an extension.. Running time is 90 minutes, with no intermission. This show contains strong language. The theater recommends for ages 14 and up but I'd dare to go a tad younger -- that is if your kid has some maturity -- because it's the type of theater that junior high school kids could really relate to and get excited about, too. Box office phone is 860-527-7838 . Web page is at theaterworkshartford.org.