Thursday, December 8, 2016

Review: Game Changer

By Michael Block

Sometimes you can learn more about a person in the way they present themselves than through the content they share. The girls in Sarah DeLappe's ferocious The Wolves, presented by The Playwrights Realm, are rich in character, and yet they reveal so little about themselves. Following a high school girls' indoor soccor team, The Wolves, making a triumphant return engagement, is a dynamic story of teamwork, determination, and the bonds of individuals.
The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe captures the intricacies of the members of the titular soccer squad as they stretch and practice for their games. With field talk snapshots, DeLappe plays upon subtleties as she highlights the hardships of teenage life. With a new girl on the team, the dynamics shift, and new stresses are introduced. To discuss the plot would be a great disservice to future audiences. The Wolves is an experience to be had. The Wolves is like Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation. Just on an indoor soccer field. To hammer home the team theme, DeLappe avoids naming her characters, out front, and sticks to addressing them by jersey number. Even without a named identity, these are genuine girls with real drama. Thanks to pristine storytelling, DeLappe managed to bring out exuberance and individuality through seemingly innocuous conversations. The Wolves goes beyond a play about the difficulties of teen-hood. It's the nuances that set it apart. Heartbreak and resilience play an integral part in the later stages of the plot. Without spoiling anything, the way DeLappe reveals who's on the receiving end of the shocking twist is brave. It's a bold choice of character. It's very likely you sit there playing out the scenario as who it will be until that girl appears. I certainly was blindsided.
photo by Daniel J. Vasquez
Ask yourself how does a play about sports, team, and friendship translate from page to stage? Effortlessly. Director Lila Neugebauer 's vivacious staging is vigorous yet uniform. With a regimented choreography of stretching and drills, reality took control. Neugebaur matched each beat to a movement naturally. Their constant motion caused honest laughs at times and proved just how in-tune she was with reality. The closest thing to site-specific theater as possible, scenic designer Laura Jellinek transformed The Duke into part of a soccer field, AstroTurf and all. The lighting design from Lap Chi Chu was evocative of field lights. Nothing really changed except those tight transitions, paired with Beth Lake and Stowe Nelson's sharp sound design, which heightened the stakes. Whether you sat in the theater from when the house opened or found your seat mere moments before curtain, the thematic girl-power pre-show soundtrack not only set the mood, but managed to match this world undoubtedly. On the surface, it didn't seem as if costume designer Asta Bennie Hostetter did much aside from creating a uniform. But attention to detail was well achieved, as each girl had personality, whether it was their sneakers or how they wore their hair. The intricacies for each team member spoke volumes. So when we saw the girls out of uniform, their attire made sense.
They say you're only as strong as your weakest player. The Wolves did not have a single weak link. This team was filled with pride. As the captain of the pack, Lauren is a natural-born leader. Even with a tinge of bravado, Patten provided natural command. #25 was one character with a bit of action in her arc. Patten allowed the reveals to flow subtly, while never calling attention. Tedra Millan's #46 was the outsider that was a little more than just an odd duck. She found great complexity that took some time to warm up to. Silent for a long string of the piece, Lizzy Jutila as goalie #00 made the moments of speech more than worthwhile. As concussion prone #2, Sarah Mezzanotte was bubbly and delightful. The anger and pain that Brenna Coates found in #7 was raw craft. It could easily have been overblown, yet Coates had the tools to reign it in.
The Wolves returned for a reason. It's a phenomenal production. If sports are not your thing, don't be scared away. This script goes above and beyond what is on the surface. Don't be surprised to see The Wolves transfer somewhere for a longer run. And don't be surprised when every university knocks on Sarah DeLappe's door to do her script.