Here’s something you’ll notice immediately upon entering the stage area inside TheatreSquared, where that company is presenting the acclaimed drama “The Wolves”: It’s different.
The only onstage decoration is an AstroTurf soccer field, with seats on either side for the audience, bleacher style but a little more comfortable. The players sprint on and off the field, and we don’t know their names. The players are referred to in the playbill only by their numbers, and we don’t learn their names during the action of the show except for in one specific case, and that’s not until the end of the show. The players run around and stretch, stretch some more and talk.
What: TheatreSquared’s “The Wolves”
When: Some Tuesdays and every Wednesday – Sunday through March 24
Where: Nadine Baum Studios, Fayetteville
Cost: $26-$47; a limited number of $10 are available for those under 30 years old
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or theatre2.org
But this play can be different because it feels real. We are following the all-girls youth soccer team known as The Wolves as they compete in a series of weekend contests. Their dialogue comes mostly during their pre-match warmup sessions. It feels so real because of the language and its cadence. The T2 website says this as a warning to audiences, and it also sums up the telling better than I can: “‘The Wolves’ is a play about older teens—in conversations they would not want their parents to overhear. Parental discretion is advised for strong language and themes.”
Depending on where you sit, which night you attend or where your focus happens to be at any given moment, you get to see a slightly different play. The actors are expected and even encouraged to talk over each other, with their sing-songy dialogue rippling through and causing waves that affect the other actresses. And it’s okay to use the term actress here, because it will always apply – there’s not a male actor in the show. The show has another level of adaptability, too. The girls briefly talk about migrant children at the border, a situation that came to national attention well after this show debuted. I’m uncertain if this was a directorial choice or if the script says something like “insert political dialogue of the day here.” Either way, “The Wolves” isn’t likely to feel dated for some time.
There’s a player whose favorite word is four letters long and begins with the same letter as ‘favorite.’ We know her, or a version of her, from our personal lives. There’s another player who manages to find a way to slide in a “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings” reference at every opportunity. We know that person too. These girls trust each other, make fun of each other, hate each other and love each other. This friendship group borders on being a clique, and it’s difficult for an outsider – even a talented one with the ability to deftly kick a ball between another player’s legs – to break into the club.
As it often is with these kinds of everyday people doing everyday things, many days are just like the one that came before it. Until something big happens, that is. And that big thing happens here, punctuated by the only onstage visit from someone who isn’t on the team. Between the girls running around and the swiftness of the language, it all runs by quickly. The play takes 90 minutes – the length of a soccer match, of course – and there’s no intermission.
Much of the credit for the effectiveness of this seemingly simple construct with surprising depth should be given to playwright Sarah DeLappe. The play debuted in 2016 at The Duke on 42nd Street in New York and has spread about as fast as a rumor does through a group of teenage soccer players. “The Wolves” made DeLappe a Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist and the original cast earned an Obie Award for ensemble work. There’s no specific star of this show. Layers of the girls’ lives open up before each new game. These reveals feel small until they don’t, piling on top of each other. You start to feel the mantra contained in the frequently shared online trope that tells us not to be mean to someone because you never know what that person is going through at the moment. By appearances, The Wolves are a semi-successful youth league team hoping for a good outing at a regional showcase. But everyone is dealing with a lot more than just the pending game.
And that might be our own takeway from watching “The Wolves.” We are left to deal with our own realness and sameness, knowing that our current experience is subject to change. “The Wolves” lacks any fast-paced drama. But it stretches the boundaries of theater, and it allows us a peak inside a world adjacent to ours. Those are marks of a quality show.