Review: ‘The Wolves’ at NextStop Theatre

Sarah DeLappe’s first play, The Wolves, was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and has subsequently been produced all over the country. The production at NextStop Theatre Company is, according to director Kathryn Chase Bryer, the first time it has been performed professionally with teenage girls, bringing the strength of age-appropriate casting.

The cast of The Wolves at NextStop Theatre Company. Photo by Lock and Company.
The cast of The Wolves at NextStop Theatre Company. Photo by Lock and Company.

With stretching and warm-ups, nine adolescent girls are getting ready for the game. But this isn’t just weekly soccer practice. These girls must also get to know who is on their team. Even for those who have played together since grade school, the relationships change faster than next week’s opponent. The Wolves are an indoor soccer team of high school girls, who minute by minute, week by week, must navigate, through trial and error, the chaotic journey towards becoming young women. This phenomenal play takes the audience through their practice, as each girl stretches herself emotionally and socially, constantly testing or manipulating the pecking order. Each struggles with who she is, as adolescents define themselves, but each must also find and practice her role on the team. The complexities of their lives overlap with their routines, as they deal with issues of racism, sex and sexuality, social standing, eating disorders, distrusted adults, feminism, competitiveness, and personal injuries that are both physical and emotional.

The young actors build a strong ensemble, as any good team must. We don’t learn the names of many characters, and must rely on jersey numbers and character traits to identify them. The team is led by their captain (Caroline Coleman) who feels pressure to demand the team’s best. One is led to question why she often seems about to explode. She frequently calls out the team’s clown (Makayla Collins), or the constantly swearing mean girl (Jordan Hundley) who gossips non-stop with her BFF (Teryn Cuozzo) until their relationship crumbles due to boy issues. The outsider who just joined (Vivian Lemons) is an oddball who embarrasses herself every time she tries to connect. The goalie (Dominique Kalunga) is the first to speak to her, which is odd, as she rarely speaks due to anxiety. A know-it-all (Jordan James), who seems to jockey for social leadership, discusses heavy school topics with the frequently-concussed teammate (Maya Tischler) and one who hopes that a winning season would bring the team to the nationals in Miami so she could see Disney World (Rachel Lipetz). In the last scene, we meet the only adult in the show, a quintessential soccer mom (Vanessa Lock Gelinas) whose awkward support for the team and scattered motivational speech breaks your heart.

Bryer directs the show well, focusing on the relationships in a group of teenage girls. Using a terrific script, she evokes conversations about feminism, the #metoo era, and the cultural maze that girls must learn to navigate. The stark, but strong set, designed by Jonathan Dahm Robertson, is almost entirely open, with astroturf and one architectural arch suggesting the soccer field. The technical design elements–powerful lighting by Sarah Tundermann and an appropriately pop music sound design by Reid May–support the dramatic elements beautifully.

This play represents the best challenges that theatre gifts us with. It is gritty, forthright, and spares no sensitivity; so be prepared to deal with frequent swearing and difficult issues, as well as loud music and bright lights. These are all useful dramatic tools to focus on illuminating truths.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Wolves plays through February 24th, 2019, at NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA. Tickets are available online.

Costume Designer, Kristina Martin; Properties Designer, Alex Wade