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REVIEW: Stirring Howl of The Wolves (Jungle Theater)

Michelle de Joya (#11) and Wolves teammates in the Jungle Theater’s production of The Wolves. Photo by Dan Norman.

Engrossing. Authentic. Astounding. The words aptly describe the Jungle Theater’s current production of The Wolves which opened last week. Playwright Sarah DeLappe’s play about a women’s soccer team was one of last year’s finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Its Minnesota premiere is the result of a dedicated courtship by Jungle artistic director Sarah Rasmussen. As Rasmussen explained, she had to demonstrate that the Jungle Theater was the perfect venue for the play. The play’s actors were cast late last summer so that the actors could spend time melding together as a team, just as the soccer player characters.

Under Rasmussen’s direction, the talented cast brings to life a thought-provoking play about growing up female and the need to be part of a group. The titular Wolves are an indoor soccer team made up of nine young high school girls, many of whom have been together on teams since elementary school. The play’s characters do not use names but, instead, refer to everyone by their jersey numbers. Soccer is never played on stage, but the audience is treated to the girls’ talkative pregame warmup sessions over a 2-3-month period. Despite the absence of names, it does not take long to learn each player’s individualism, with some more distinctive than others. One girl is new to town, another has a college boyfriend, one had an abortion, one has two parents who are both therapists (but she doesn’t want to talk about it), another is discovering her sexual attraction to girls, one suffers anxiety disorders, and another is a secret bulimic. The girls are not necessarily best friends and often say catty things about those who are absent, but there is a bond between players to which they cling.

Having raised teenage daughters, I can attest that DeLappe’s script nails authentic teenage conversations with the players’ chatter. They engage in rhythmic and competing conversations on varied topics such as the benefits of tampons versus pads, abortions, promiscuity, who “smells”, as well as the Cambodian genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge. True to form, the girls also repeatedly use the “f***” word as easily as they draw breath. The 20-something actors convincingly play high school girls on the cusp between adolescence and adulthood. The team consists of Chloe Armao (#14), Megan Burns (#46), Meredith Casey (#2), Michelle De Joya (#11), Becca hart (#7), McKenna Kelly-Eiding (#13), Isbella Star LaBlanc (#00), Rosey Lowe (#8) and Shelby Rose Richardson (#25). Jennifer Blagen plays the only adult in the play, delivering a heart-wrenching performance as a grieving soccer mom while throwing light on the fact that the girls have lives outside of the team.

A promotional photo for The Wolves. L-R: Isabella Star LeBlanc, Megan Burns, and Rosey Lowe. Photo by William Clark.

Although much of the girls’ talk is petty and inane, listening carefully reveals some snippets with serious overtones – including references to a possible sexual exploitation of the girls by a beloved former coach, a discovery of sexual orientation, and some girls’ practice of self-harming behaviors. The play’s final scene appears to be a plot contrivance designed to show how the girls deal with grief when one of them is killed in a “stupid accident”. But is it a contrivance or is it tied to the briefly referenced sexual assault? More importantly, does it underscore the reality that not all could find needed solace with the pack? These ambiguous lingering questions give the play greater depth than it initially appears to have.

The play has the same ambiance as Wendy Wasserstein’s play Uncommon Women and Others. In both, similar and yet different characters bond together for solace even though they live very separate lives. Surprisingly, the media night audience did not give a standing ovation (it might have due to the fact that they were still digesting the play or just have a bad hip like myself), but the Jungle’s thought-provoking production definitely deserves the highest accolades.

The Wolves plays through April 29 at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, MN.

Bev Wolfe