At the Goodman Theatre (Owen)
By Dan Zeff
Chicago—In 90 uninterrupted minutes “The Wolves” takes audiences behind the scenes at soccer practices for a high school team called the Wolves. At the Goodman Owen Theatre, we watch the team banter, go through drills, swear, joke, and argue. It’s a typical sports environment, except the athletes are girls and not boys. And that makes “The Wolves” significant.
The play consists of nine young women who play the members of the team (an adult makes a late appearance in a kind of coda). The players are identified only by the numbers on their jerseys, but as the show progresses each teenager emerges with her own personality, from the nerd to the take-charge leader of the team.
The audience watches the ensemble go through exercise drills performed in choreographed precision, at the same time chattering away about subjects ranging from the genocide in Cambodia to feminine hygiene, school, sex, and, of course, soccer. The school is never identified, and neither is the time or geographical area. We do learn that the team is a power in its area and is gearing up for playoff competition. All the action is performed on a mock indoor soccer field with an Astro Turf surface.
The players are enclosed by a high wire fence that separates the ensemble from the audience, a necessary precaution with kicked and thrown soccer balls flying all over the acting space. During most of the show all nine players are on the field at the same time, but the numbers occasionally vary as individuals come and go from exit doorways to a connecting locker room or an outdoor Porto potty.
The operative descriptive word for the production is “energy.” Each girl has a motor that never stops. The characters are in prime physical condition, as all good soccer players must be, and thus so is the Goodman cast. The ensemble, selected after an exhaustive casting search, went through weeks of physical drills to bring the young women up to speed, literally, as quality soccer players. This must be the most physically fit ensemble performing in Chicagoland this season.
“The Wolves” doesn’t offer a coherent narrative. It rides on the assorted personalities of the nine players as they verbally, and occasionally physically, bounce off each other. The overlapping talk blurs some of the dialogue but the sense of what the girls are saying and shouting, often humorously, is easy to follow.
This is playwright Sarah DeLappe’s first professional play and the author displays a sharp ear for the way a teenage female peer group talks and acts. They speak the teenagers dialect with the in-your-face zest they would be unlikely to use outside their own group.
Since its premiere in 2016, “The Wolves” has been praised for its treatment of teenage females as distinct individuals and not just as members of a group shaped by society to act and talk in conditioned ways. There is a mentality at work among the characters usually associated with the male gender. The number of F-bombs spoken during the play is almost countless. One young lady seems to use the word in nearly every sentence. The level of profanity would startle adults and boyfriends, but within the team’s comfort zone the language sounds natural and expressive.
Under Vanessa Stalling’s spot-on directing, the actors blend into a seamless whole that should render the Jeff Award for ensemble performance mute come the end of the season. Most importantly, every character looks like a teenager. I suspect that most of the cast members will never see 25 again, but they have the look and sound of high school girls, which is essential to the authenticity of DeLappe’s writing. Each performer captures the teenage spirit in her own way, but the ensemble quality never wavers.
Every performer is a star so I’ll just list them alphabetically as equals, with without individual comment but with a collective cheer. They are Angela Alise, Isa Arciniegas, Taylor Blim, Aurora Real De Asua, Natalie Joyce, Cydney Moody, Erin O’Shea, Sarah Price, and Mary Tilden. And Meighan Gerachis makes a striking appearance at the end of the evening as an adult Soccer Mom, demonstrating the emotional and social gulf between the teen and adult worlds.
The designers have done their bit to sell this show’s realism, starting with Collette Pollard’s evocative indoor soccer field. Noel Huntzinger designed the costumes, Keith Parham the lighting, and Mikhail Fiksel the sound as well as the original music. A special shout out goes to Katie Berkopec, credited as Soccer Skill Building Coach. Well done all around.
The Goodman production is beyond impressive and it is regrettable that “The Wolves” only runs through March 11. But possibly management will consider an extension if public interest is sufficiently aroused, which it should be. All that energy and talent has earned a long run.
“The Wolves” runs through March 11 at the Goodman Owen Theatre, 170 North Dearborn Street. Most performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $47. For information, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/TheWolves, or call 312 443 3800.
The show gets a rating of
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