The Playwrights Realm
The Duke on 42nd St.
Wednesday - Monday through December 24, $65-$85
Sarah DeLappe’s sharply incisive debut play about a girls soccer team, The Wolves, is back for an encore engagement at the Duke on 42nd St., making a playoff run after a superb regular season in September. The Playwrights Realm production is set in the present in an unnamed middle America town, where the team is making a championship run of its own. The action takes place on Laura Jellinek’s rectangular AstroTurf set, with the audience seated bleacher-style on the two longer sides of the central green field. Over the course of ninety minutes and a handful of Saturday game warm-ups, the nine girls discuss menstruation, their perpetually hung-over coach, social media, religion, exercise, parents, abortion, political correctness, and making a difference in the world while stretching, jogging in formation, and kicking the ball around in predetermined practice routines (including the awesome spider). The sixteen- and seventeen-year-old students are more than a bit fascinated with aging and death; the play opens with a debate about whether ninety-year-old former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea should be imprisoned or executed for horrific crimes he committed in the 1970s. When a few of the girls admit they don’t know anything about the Khmer Rouge, one says, “We don’t do genocide till senior year.” When they argue about the success of various types of feminine hygiene products, the same girl declares, “Score on me with my own baby blood? I think not!” The Wolves regularly passes the Bechdel test, as very few of the discussions have anything to do with boys. In addition, nearly everyone involved with the play is female; the only male listed in the program is one of the sound designers.
The Realm’s Page One Playwright, DeLappe, and director Lila Neugebauer (Signature Plays: The Sandbox, The Wayside Motor Inn) — both of whom played soccer and made playing the sport with the actors part of the audition process — serve up rapid-fire dialogue like a ball being passed around during a game, with multiple conversations going on at the same time, the audience swerving their heads back and forth to keep up with the fast pace and flow. After a victory, many an athlete has attributed success to that mundane sports cliché, Total Team Effort, but that is exactly what makes The Wolves such a winner; the nine young actors are individually excellent and even better as a unit, although they are later joined by a soccer mom (Kate Arrington) in a heartfelt but unnecessary coda. DeLappe’s clever writing prevents the girls from turning into stereotypes; in fact, for most of the play they are referred to by their numbers, not their names. (We don’t even learn everyone’s given appellation.) They all wear Ásta Bennie Hostetter’s blue uniform costumes except for the goalie, #00 (Lizzy Jutila), who dresses in yellow and purposely mismatched sneakers; she barely speaks but pays close attention to what the rest of the girls are saying. The team is led by #25 (Lauren Patten), the captain, who has learned various motivation techniques from her father. The rest of the cast, each of whom deserves kudos, features Sarah Mezzanotte as the skinny #2; Brenna Coates as the bold and brash striker, #7; Midori Francis as the childlike and innocent #8; Susannah Perkins as the elitist and morbid #11; Jenna Dioguardi as the wacky, filter-less #13; Samia Finnerty as the serious #14, who is best friends with #7; and Tedra Millan as the mysterious #46, an odd new girl who, according to #13, lives with her mother in a “yogurt.” (It’s actually a yurt.) All of their interactions feel honest and genuine, fully immersing the audience in their very believable private and public dramas. The play, which shared the inaugural Relentless Award (with Clare Barron’s Dance Nation), presented by the American Playwriting Foundation in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman, makes us eager to see more from DeLappe. A wonderful and unique theatrical experience, The Wolves continues at the Duke through December 24, but it deserves a whole lot more extra time before that final whistle blows.