Would it be corny to say: I have seen the future of American theater and it is “The Wolves”?
That would overstate the case a bit, maybe. But watching the exhilaratingly original drama at Jungle Theater is like reading “Mrs. Dalloway” or listening to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” or watching Yuzuru Hanyu skate to “Let’s Go Crazy.” Yeah, the art form is familiar, but it’s done in a way that feels utterly new.
A Pulitzer Prize finalist last year, Sarah DeLappe’s play is set at a series of girls’ high school soccer warmups. Their talk about politics, college and competition is so intimate that we’re hyper-aware we’re eavesdropping on conversations we might never get to hear (bikini wax = “like slapping your vagina, but with hot oil”).
Soccer may be just a game but there’s a lot at stake in the moving and hilarious “The Wolves.” The warmups take place over a couple of months, during which several momentous things happen — and what’s unique about the play, structurally, is that all of them happen between its scenes, which are separated by brief blackouts.
After the blackouts, DeLappe draws us back into the action by forcing us to figure out what occurred since last we saw the group. One scene starts in the middle of a conversation and it’s not immediately clear what the conversation is about. There’s a suspenseful quality to the play’s progression, involving us more and more deeply in the lives of nine distinctive women as we try to discern, first, what they’re talking about and, second, what is in their hearts.
The characters are all memorable, including a 10th, who’s the mom of one of the players. Sarah Rasmussen’s dynamic staging, in which even people who are standing still seem to buzz with energy, asks us to attend to small differences between scenes: Who’s talking in this one? Who’s not? And who isn’t there at all?
The 10 actors, most making their Jungle debuts, are such a committed ensemble that it would be a shame to single out any of them. Taking ownership of DeLappe’s rhythmic dialogue, they overlap and interrupt, speaking under, over and between each other, almost like notes in a piece of music written to convey the charged, hothouse atmosphere of a soccer field just before a game.
For almost all of the play, the soccer-field set is the young women’s world (a bubble, if you will, a metaphor you could take farther if you felt like it). It’s almost like they’re on an island that protects them from the rest of humanity.
Your mileage may vary, but for most of the play, I felt super-protective of the characters. They may come on all tough and profane, but we know they will have to grapple with a world that won’t always welcome them. Then tragedy strikes, forcing the players out of their bubble and showing us why this team, this pack, calls themselves the Wolves.
Faced with having to pull apart in fear or come together as one, their reaction reveals their vulnerability, their beauty and their power.
We’re ready for the world, they seem to say. Come at us.