The Octagon

Capital Stage’s ‘The Wolves’ impresses through witty dialogue, interesting staging

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Héloïse Schep
The set of “The Wolves”, featuring the side of a soccer pitch.

I don’t know what I was expecting from a play about a girls’ soccer team. But I certainly wasn’t expecting the first scene to be a fight over the pronunciation of “Khmer Rouge.”

“The Wolves,” written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Nancy Carlin, had its Sacramento premiere at Capitol Stage on Aug. 29 and runs through Sept. 30.

It follows nine teenage girls living in an unspecified region in suburban America (although there is one reference made to them living in the middle of the country) who are part of the Wolves, a prestigious soccer team, as they warm up before their game each week.

The arrival of a new player exposes tensions between the girls, who are all juniors in high school, and their struggle to juggle their own issues with soccer-related ones – like their hungover, unqualified coach.

And while the play was a 2017 Pulitzer Prize Finalist, and its plot seemed to have at least some drama, I still had my doubts going into the play about how riveting nine girls playing soccer could be.

At first glance, the opportunities for plot development seem limited: The play is set completely on the Wolves’ side of the soccer field, and there is only one character who isn’t on the team (a soccer mom). Plus, she appears only in the last minutes of the play. Furthermore, the audience never even sees the girls play.

The theater, too, was unlike any I had been in before. Capital Stage is very small; there were only about 50 people in the audience, and it was nearly sold out.

Also, all the characters wear the same uniforms and don’t have names. Until the end of the play, when two names are revealed, the girls are referred to only by their number ( #11, #25, #13, #46, #2, #7, #14, #8, #00), which can get confusing.

But the play manages to use its restrictions to its advantage through its dialogue and plot; the stark contrast between conversations can be jarring but also hilarious.

For example, while doing lunges in a circle, four girls talk about refugees being detained and children being held in cages as two others talk about their boyfriends. A conversation about a Cambodian murderer (which featured the memorable and off-topic line, “Are you saying you’re on Twitter in China?”) is combined with one about tampons and the Lord of the Rings. An argument arises over whether the team’s newest player, #00, is living in a yogurt (it turned out to be a yurt).

Underneath this light conversation are hints about the girls’ personal lives. They deal with abortion, anxiety, homesickness, relationships, drug addiction, rape, injuries, recruiting, cancer and death – all through the lens of the soccer field, and all through the girls’ reactions, because – once again – they never leave the soccer field.

I was amazed by how the play depicted an anxiety attack on the field. The shift in style and music was dramatic, but it worked so well.

And any assumptions you make about one player being perfect, a troublemaker, dumb, smart, well-off, impoverished, etc. can be disproven within seconds. The plot is constantly developing, and so are the players.

Furthermore, the small size of the stage allows you to get closer to the actors and feel as if you’re in the play with them – not just watching from afar.

The actors are older than teenage girls, but they play the parts perfectly and realistically, partially due to the outstanding script that captures how teenage girls talk without overdosing on “Um”s and “Like”s.

In the program, DeLappe states that she “wanted to see a portrait of teenage girls as human beings – as complicated, nuanced, very idiosyncratic people who weren’t just girlfriends or sex objects or manic pixie dream girls but who were athletes and daughters and students and scholars.”

And “The Wolves” does just that.

– By Héloïse Schep

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