3.5 out of 4 stars
Soccer unites the world. An international sport that illustrates the power and balance in the global community through competition not only on a global scale, but in the lives of ten young girls. Sarah DeLappe’s poignant and smart play follows a suburban girls soccer team, as they navigate life’s big questions and their own individual battles. A 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist, The Wolves directed by Vanessa Stalling features a ten member all female, all Chicago cast. These fierce women illustrate the beautiful hilarity and stark reality of female adolescence.
The play’s writing style weaves through the each girl's perspective painting a full and vibrant picture of this soccer team. The playwright also includes bookend topics that cinches those perspectives together by using key words and moments like orange peels, music, and Cambodia. This allows the audience to really focus in on the undercurrent themes of individual isolation, peer pressure (particularly from friends), and puberty. Taylor Blim (#2) gave an extremely impressive emotional performance. Blim showcased her strong talent through a multi-faceted character secretly struggling with body image. Although the audience is seeing ten very different girls with distinct personalities, the play’s structure and syntax reveals they are all more similar than they thought with soccer as the crux. The creative team transforms the Goodman’s 350 seat-flexible Owen Theatre into an indoor soccer field complete with AstroTurf and safety netting. Collette Pollard’s ingenious use of space to create a theater in the round complete with bleacher-esque seating and three naturally accessible entrance/exits is astounding. No sports game is complete without lighting and sound. One word: bold. Keith Parham’s lighting paired with Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design kicked the entire performance up a notch. The music prior to curtain ranged from Beyonce to older hits on the top 40, which created very much the environment I remember from my own days playing high school sports. The lighting variety was creative and energizing and only created a small concern on the use of blinking strobes often seen in professional sports games and concerts.
Within the indoor soccer arena, these young girls discuss topics from menstrual cycles to social injustices in foreign countries. The scope moving quickly from menial to world views is not only extremely funny, but perfectly captures what it is like to be a 17 year old. Thinking you have a strong handle on how the world works and that empowerment of prepping for the largest academic test of your young American life, yet still being naive about the cruelty of the real world. Sarah Price plays the clever worrier #11, who’s relatable character brings dynamic through wry humor, while Aurora Real de Asua’s character (#14) balances the group by relating to both the clever girls and her “cool” best friend. The growing pains of a female high school junior in all it’s messy glory. This work is a sports play that centers around the arcs of adolescent than it is about the actual sport. Throughout the production, the audience never sees a match, but rather each scene is a warm-up before a game complete with stretches, drills and a barrage of overlapped conversation. To condition for the physically demanding role, the actors worked with a soccer skill building coach Katie Berkopec. They learned a series of real soccer drills and incorporated synchronized warm-ups, including squats, jumping jacks, quads, hamstrings, butterfly and more. A most impressive performance in breath control performing not only drills, but constant emotive vocals for such a physically demanding piece. It comes to no surprise that the work is 90 minutes, the regulation time of a professional soccer game. Almost as if the playwright is taking a nod at the nature of fleeting youth, while expressing the extremely large impact it has upon the rest of our lives.
The message of female empowerment is pushed further by the wonderful costume design by Noel Huntzinger. The visual story begins with their red soccer uniforms binds this group together, while hair styles define their personality traits in the production's first half. The team makes up a range of stereotyped high school girls: the clever one with glasses, the clown with quirky hair, the cool one who wears it down, and the sporty captain complete pony and sweatbands. As the play’s timeframe arcs, the winter attire of each girl is a visual reminder to the audience that this an eclectic group of individuals coming together to play soccer as a team. DeLappe's raw emotional writing emphasizes the strong healing powers of the female collective. Over the course of a few fictional days/weeks, the barriers of humor break down to reveal hard realities young girls face everyday like anorexia, social anxiety, sex and the overwhelming daunting future. A truly potent piece of the female narrative that wildly deserves praise of it's courage to bare all the joys and pain of young adulthood.
The Wolves is now playing through March 11th at the Goodman Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit GoodmanTheatre.org/TheWolves, by phone 312.443.3800 or at the box office at 170 N. Dearborn.
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!