Take nine suburban high school juniors. Girls, sixteen years old or so. Put them in soccer uniforms; set them in the practice area of a Saturday indoor league, in an AstroTurf sports dome, doing warmup exercises prior to the match. Name the team The Wolves—as in Sarah DeLappe’s ferociously-good The Wolves—and you can immediately see where the playwright is heading: these little foxes, at least some of them, can be ferocious.
But they are also teenage girls. No talk of the mall, here, and little talk of boys (except from the most forward of the girls, already experienced enough to have had an abortion). The conversation is wildly realistic. The play opens with a blizzard-fast round of overlapping discussions, in which we are bombarded by talk of the bloody atrocities of the Khmer Rouge on the one hand (someone’s homework assignment, presumably); and matters menstrual on the other, complete with bloody soccer balls. This is dazzling writing, played to perfection by an exceptional acting company and directed with great precision by Lila Neugebauer.
And DeLappe goes on from there. She assaults the air with dialogue as fast paced as a quick-pass exercise. While lulling us, she plants seeds of character. Quite astoundingly, the author creates a stage filled with fully-rounded characters without even giving them names; just numbers. And as in an impressionist painting—one with harsh colors and jagged edges—the numerous strands and snatches jaggedly form into a compelling whole in the gripping final scene. (Not only does DeLappe do it without naming her characters; the end revolves around a missing character, and the playwright leaves playgoers anxiously trying to figure out just who that character is.)
Standing out is Tedra Millan, as the home-schooled, yert-domiciled #46. An outsider among the group—she has never played in this soccer league, and is the only girl in this overprivileged class who has to take the bus to get to practice—she helps bring her teammates into a wider world. (Since creating the role in the initial 2016 mounting of The Wolves, Millan played the young inamorata of Kevin Kline in Present Laughter and the hero’s horizon-expanding girlfriend in Simon Stephen’s On the Shore of the Wild World. Which leaves her a young actor to watch.)
There are more than a few other notable contributions. Brenna Coates as #7, the displaced striker; Samia Finnerty as #14, her confidant; Lizzy Jutila as the goalie, #00; Sarah Mezzanotte as #2, the thin blonde with braids; Susannah Perkins as the red-haired and earnest #11. Mia Barron, the one adult in the cast, has a riveting scene as a soccer mom.
Neugebauer’s production of The Wolves played two brief engagements at small venues in the fall of 2016. It is now remounted, in a larger staging, at Lincoln Center Theater; this is one of those cases where people simply couldn’t get tickets the first two times, and the present booking period is apparently already sold out. Which is to say: this is a play that sounds like it’s going to be good, and more than delivers.
As for DeLappe, let’s just say that The Wolves—her first produced work, and a Pulitzer finalist—is the sort of play Edward Albee might have written if he had written about teenaged girls. Riveting theatre.
The Lincoln Center Theater production of Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves” opened November 20, 2017 and continues through January 7, 2018 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse