Monday, April 2, 2018

"The Wolves" at Jungle Theater

I don't do sports. Except for being a lifelong Twins fan (and running an occasional marathon), I have zero interest in sports. I didn't even watch the recent Olympics. But for some reason, sports makes a compelling subject for theater (e.g., Mixed Blood's 2014 production of Colossal). Maybe because of the inherit drama in sports (teamwork, villains, exciting wins, devastating losses), playwrights are able to use sports as a metaphor for life and tell a really compelling story. The latest example of this is Sarah DeLappe's story of a girls' soccer team, The Wolves, a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. Jungle Theater's Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen worked hard to get this play at the Jungle, and directs it herself, leading an excellent all-female cast and creative team. The result is a very real look at young women today, touching on many issues without exhausting any of them. It's a fantastic 90 minutes of theater that truly feels like eavesdropping on these characters' lives, in which the simple becomes profound.

The entire play takes place at pre-game soccer practices over a few weeks. Nine high school girls (played by Becca Hart, Chloe Armao, Isabella Star LaBlanc, McKenna Kelly-Eiding, Megan Burns, Meredith Casey, Michelle de Joya, Rosey Lowe, and Shelby Rose Richardson) gather to stretch, talk, and tease each other. Topics range from parties, boys, and TV shows to the Khmer Rouge, pregnancy scares, and the death of a parent. The girls represent a wide spectrum of interests and personalities, but they all come together to play this game that some of them have been playing together almost their whole lives. Not much happens, until something big happens, and suddenly things get real serious.

Each one of these characters could have their own spin-off series on Netflix. Each is a fully defined character, so beautifully and specifically played by the cast, but not everything in their lives is spelled out for us. We see hints of depth and further life in each of them, but we only have a short time with them so we don't get it all. DeLappe has written the play and the characters in a way that it feels like they all have full and complex lives outside of the scope of these particular scenes. To be a teenage girl is a difficult thing, especially now. This play beautifully captures that balance of striving toward adulthood, but still being kids who think making faces with orange peels is hilarious.

stretching before the game (photo by Dan Norman)
The story plays out on a simple set that's just a sloped floor covered with turf. The girls are dressed in their soccer uniforms for most of the show, but with slight variations that help define character (costume and scenic design by Sarah Bahr). And they actually play soccer, going through workouts and running across the stage while talking, acting, emoting. Every woman in this ensemble gives a wonderfully nuanced performance (also including Jennifer Blagen, who is asked to do some heavy lifting as a soccer mom, and delivers).

The Wolves continues through April 19 at the Jungle Theater in Uptown Minneapolis. It seems like a simple little play about soccer, but it's about so much more than that. Recommended for people who do or don't like sports, who have or have not ever been a teenage girl.