Life is a Team Sport

by China Young

As a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe is currently one of the hottest plays making the circuit right now. With a story that is modern and fiercely female, it is no surprise that Arizona Repertory Theatre at the University of Arizona added it to its 2019/20 Season, and produced it with a team made, predominantly, of women. 

The wolves

The cast of The Wolves. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

The Wolves follows a soccer team of nine teenage girls through six consecutive weeks of soccer pre-game warm-ups. Within these weekly snapshots the audience is not spoon-fed the plot, but instead must listen to the characters and watch them interact to follow the story being told. The young women often talk in multiple smaller conversations that overlap one another, sometimes briefly merging into a group conversation before branching off again. They talk about the stereotypical teenage girl things like college and sex, but they also discuss world events, politics, abortion, and many other topics that some might consider “too adult” for the generation being portrayed. I find this consideration especially important at a time when the youth of the world are screaming at the top of lungs for adults to take them seriously about their concerns for their future, and when women are fighting just as hard as ever to not be silenced or scoffed at. 

Breaking several identity molds, The Wolves is not a typical coming of age story, yet it is still incredibly identifiable. At its core, this story amplifies the importance of being on a team. Whether in sports, theatre, or any other aspect of life, being on a team teaches us how to navigate group dynamics, become more mindful of those around us, learn to lead, and learn to follow. Teamwork also helps us find our chosen tribes, with teammates often becoming the people we celebrate our joy with and who hold us together when we experience loss.

Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production, expertly directed by Claire Mannle, portrays the familial dynamic of this particular team, channeling the love these young women have for one another into the Tornabene Theatre. Mannle puts this cast through the wringer – every scene contains physical exercises that ensure the cast will be in good shape for months after this show. She “coaches” the cast’s execution of the rhythms in the script, especially in moments when we must shift from multi-faceted chaos to attention on one particular character, Mannle guides our attention seamlessly.

The rest of the creative team’s designs further enhance the rawness of the script. Ally Frieders’ scenic design is simple and smart – replicating a corner of an indoor soccer square with turf on the ground and a netted backdrop on two of the four sides, helping to keep the action tight, and the balls on stage. The lighting by Mack Woods and sound design by Hunter Sweetser are also simple but sophisticated and do their part to generate the world of the production.  Sierra Adamo’s costume design is perfect. The characters are dressed in the same soccer uniform throughout, however Adamo compliments each character’s personality through their accessories.I fully appreciated what each hairstyle, headband, jacket and backpack said about each individual. That level of attention to detail can only be the result of true collaborative teamwork with Mannle and the cast.

Paige Mills (#14), Lauren Vialva (#11), Sophia Goodin (#2), Vuane Suitt (#00), Eavan Clare Brunswick (#8), Elana Rose Richardson (#13). Scenic Design by Ally Frieders

Paige Mills (#14), Lauren Vialva (#11), Sophia Goodin (#2), Vuane Suitt (#00), Eavan Clare Brunswick (#8), Elana Rose Richardson (#13). Scenic Design by Ally Frieders. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

The actors are women from various backgrounds, though most of them are students in the UA School of Theatre, Film, and Television. The characters are listed by their jersey number, enhancing the show’s “Everyman” status. #25 (Lotus Rogers) is the team Captain and peacemaker. Rogers brought an air of leadership and responsibility that suited the character perfectly. #00 (Vaune Suite) played the mostly speechless goalie.  Though silent, Suite commanded our attention through her own focus. #46 (Maggie McNeil) is the new girl who just joined the team. She’s a bit odd and struggles to be accepted into the group, but after learning she is a world traveler the rest of the team starts to accept her awkwardness for worldliness. I found McNeil’s comedic timing and embodiment of her character to be truly inspired. #07 (Reagan Kennedy) and #14 (Paige Mills) are “BFFs FOREVER”. They have a bond unlike any of the other ladies on the team and the chemistry generated by Kennedy and Mills make it clear that they will always be the first to defend and protect the other when it comes to the rest of the group, even if they can’t protect themselves from each other. #02 (Sophia Goodin), is the most conservative character who we learn was raised very religiously and with no television. We’ve all known those kids, or have been those kids, and I am still finding humor in how fantastically Goodin portrayed the personality of someone who grew up under those circumstances. Not because it’s actually funny, but because it was just – so – perfect. #13 (Elana Rose Richardson) is a tomboy/Sporty Spice character with an older drug-dealing brother that has influenced some of her own habits, and Richardson brought many nuanced layers to the role. Both her personality and her physique reminded me of someone I went to high school with that played all the sports, making her another character I felt like I knew. #11 (Lauren Vialva) brought a nice balance of intensity and sincerity to a character that is a passionate activist, eager to tell everyone about all the injustices in the world and then out on their “isms.” #08 (Eaven Clare Brunswick) was the most childlike and stereotypically “girly” of all the characters. She was quick to be excitable or over-dramatic about the smallest issues. Though she was almost a caricature, Brunswick managed to find found the honesty in her ridiculousness. In the final scene we meet one other character that is not on the team, Soccer Mom (Callie Hutchinson). This character doesn’t stop talking once she appears, and is only present for about five to ten minutes, but Hutchinson does a fine job channeling the energy of the emotional chaos that the character is living in.

I could go on for days dissecting all the themes and issues that The Wolves explores, but suggest you just go see this contemporary, female-driven production instead. Don’t let your UA Theatre team down – those 90 minutes are worth it.

The Wolves is playing at the Tornabene Theatre on the UA campus from February 8-23, tickets available at theatre.arizona.edu or (520) 621-1162.