The powerful play was a finalist for the Pulitzer.
“The Wolves” cast members Emma Roos (#7), Carolyn Faye Kramer (#8), Isabel Langen (#2), Portland Thomas (#11), Sango Tajima (#25), Neiry Rojo (#46), and Nicole Apostol Bruno (#13) prepare for a game. Photo by Kevin Berne.
Nine young women dressed in soccer uniforms juggle and pass a soccer ball and talk to each other not on a field but on a stage in front of an audience. This is the scene for the play “The Wolves,” written by award-winning playwright Sarah DeLappe as a powerful means to explore the challenges of being a teenage girl.
The curtains closed on the play’s final showing at the Bay Area’s Marin Theatre Company in April 2018, but “The Wolves” took the audience on a journey in an unconventional way, depicting a high school girls soccer team navigating the challenges of life through the scope of sports. With overlapping dialogue, the characters — identified only by their jersey numbers — engaged in various conversations ranging from gossip to romantic relationships to their coach’s hangover.
Morgan Green, the director of the Pulitzer-Prize-finalist play, says about her first reading of the script, “I was struck by how authentic the dialogue was: full of youthful energy and confusion while still portraying nine intelligent and distinct young women.”
For Carolyn Faye Kramer, who played #8, the conversations the girls have in the play did not feel watered down. “Sarah DeLappe created complex characters who are dynamic,” she says. “But I think what stands out the most is that conversations felt real and really showcased how girls talk.”
Cast members Nicole Apostol Bruno (#13), Portland Thomas (#11), Carolyn Faye Kramer (#8), Isabel Langen (#2), Sango Tajima (#25), Betsy Norton (#00), Emma Roos (#7), and Jannely Calmell (#14) warm up in pairs. Photo by Kevin Berne.
The importance of creating complicated characters was stressed with the cast members and director. The play’s setting in a soccer facility helped to shift the focus to the girls being seen as people. “The context of a girls soccer team helps desexualize the characters and enables us to see them not as teenage stereotypes but as complex individuals dealing with issues of morality, ambition, and betrayal,” Green says.
DeLappe, who played soccer growing up, wanted to write a play about girls where the focus wasn’t on their bodies. “We’re on a planet of teenage girls, and they’re the only people there, and they’re not there as daughters or girlfriends or sex objects or manic pixie dream girls. They can just talk with each other and be rough with each other,” DeLappe told The New York Times.
Part of the authenticity of the characters was seen through their interactions when dealing with the range of emotions experienced by teenagers. “These girls don't hold back. When they are mean to each other, they are brutal. And when they apologize or congratulate each other, they deeply mean it,” Green says.
“When I first read the script, I fell in love with it,” says Lyle Belger, understudy for #15. “It was so similar to how my friends and I interact. I thought I was reading about a real teenager’s life.”
Belger says she grew up playing soccer and feels the play showcased how sports can have a meaningful impact on girls’ lives. “My soccer team had a built-in unspoken community. We looked out for each other and had a strong bond between everyone,” she explains.
While alluding to a tragic event that took place near the end of the play, Belger says the team in “The Wolves” came together “not so much as a team but more so as a family.”
Cast members Isabel Langen (#2), Carolyn Faye Kramer (#8), Emma Roos (#7), Sango Tajima (#25), and Betsy Norton (#00) at soccer practice/rehearsal. Photo by Jeff Berlin.
In preparation for the play, the ensemble worked with a soccer coach, Shane Kennedy, running through soccer drills and learning the dynamics of what it means to work together as a team. Kennedy, who is an artist and coaches girls soccer, was excited to merge the sport with the arts. “I think there a there are a lot of similarities between the arts and athletics in terms of fearlessness and having to be creative,” he says.
The parallels between playing soccer and working as an actor are quite similar, says Kramer. “For instance, there’s a scene in the play where a college coach is looking to recruit some of the players,” she says. “And in acting, you’re often wondering if there’s a casting director or a producer in the audience who you’re looking to impress.”
With the overlapping analogies between art, sports, and life, the play does an exceptional job of showing how sports can not only play an integral part in building self-confidence but also self-awareness. It also reminds the audience just how challenging it is to be a teenager and the pressures young girls face in society.
Green says that while she hopes girls see themselves in the play, she wants them to walk away from it “knowing that their stories matter.” She adds, “I hope parents are reminded of how difficult it is to know what kind of person to be. And how when we are sixteen years old, it temporarily feels as though none of our experiences have been had by anyone else ever before or since.”