The Wolves

Studio Theatre examines the sport of women’s indoor soccer.

The cast of The Wolves, directed by Marti Lyons, at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C.
The cast of The Wolves, directed by Marti Lyons, at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C.
(© Teresa Wood)

The Wolves is a lively, unconventional coming-of-age drama, currently receiving a spirited Washington, D.C., premiere at Studio Theatre. Written by Sarah DeLappe, the play depicts the lives of nine teenage girls who play on an elite suburban American soccer team. However, these are no ordinary amateur soccer enthusiasts. Rather, DeLappe shows these high schoolers as fanatical parts of an athletic whole, where they individually excel as goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, or striker.

It is winter and the young members of the Wolves play and practice indoors. The games happen offstage, but during their warm-ups, there is constant banter among the young women, bouncing from topic to topic: from the Khmer Rouge, to the team's alcoholic coach, to menstrual pads, to a cold that has been making the rounds, affecting player after player. DeLappe has a remarkable ability to keep her actors focused on one idea while several voices overlap one another. The continual conversations reveal the players' personalities, hopes, and fears. The only time there is no speaking is when the players train, running from one end of their field to the other doing circuits and various other cardio warm-ups.

In order to emphasize their relationship as a team, the young women are called by their numbers rather than their names. As the practices and games unfold, gossip about various players leaks out, though it's not always clear if the information is true or not. One girl may or may not have had an abortion. The new girl on the team turns out to be a natural, but no one can figure out why. One player is the daughter of a wealthy lawyer who decides to use her dad's alcohol-stocked ski lodge one weekend.

Cleanly and precisely directed by Marti Lyons, The Wolves is a perfect example of what ensemble acting should be. Though the group works as a smoothly bonded entity, certain individuals deserve special praise. Chrissy Rose is very credible as the strict #25, the no-nonsense captain of the team, the one who puts the other players through their paces when they exercise. Sara Turner is entertaining as the sardonic, critical #13, whose harshness has the lilt of humor underneath it. As #2, Merissa Czyz is believable as a sensitive, vulnerable girl, completely controlled by her overbearing mother.

Jane Bernhard is outstanding as #46, the new girl, who is so unfamiliar with how the Wolves do things, when they stretch on the floor, she always needs to take her cue from the girl sitting next to her to know what to do. Katie Kleiger is excellent as the sophisticated #7, a girl who already has a serious boyfriend. Gabby Beans is fabulous as #00, the explosive goalkeeper who demonstrates in one scene what too much emotional and physical pressure looks like.

Debra Booth's set is a rectangle of AstroTurf completely filling the small experimental Stage 4 at Studio Theatre. This is the world as the Wolves know it. A few balls and orange cones are the only necessary props. Costume designer Sarah Cubbage puts the Wolves in green athletic outfits, except for the goalie, who wears orange. Lighting designer Paul Toben creates blackouts to divide scenes. Sound designer Mikhail Fiksel furnishes an effective soundtrack to run before the show including popular hymns to women ("Girl on Fire"). Between scenes, Fiksel includes the sounds of stomping and drumming that hover somewhere between a military tattoo and the imperative sound of restless crowds at a soccer match.

The ring of truth in its dialogue and performances help make The Wolves so appealing. Whether they are displaying uncouth thoughts, astonishingly profound sentiments, or pure silliness, these teenagers all participate in the kinds of group dynamics fueled by the strength of character they know they need. Each one is, in her own way, fighting to be worthy of remaining in the pack.