Back for a return engagement, The Wolves remains a potent example of female-driven storytelling, which highlights some the struggles of female adolescence set against the backdrop of sport. You have seen stories like this before (The Mighty Ducks, Friday Night Lights) but not with these protagonists. Growing up, I can think of one sporting movie that centered on women (Bend it Like Beckham) and even then, a large part of the plot revolved around love and familial obligation.
I can’t help it. Seeing The Wolves open to such a large crowd on Thursday made me smile. I saw the Jungle’s first production of this play in the Spring, and have had it rolling around in my mind ever since. I told myself that seeing this production remounted in The Southern would be more about an aesthetic experience; I imagined myself writing a review about the poetics of space, discussing how the Southern and Jungle stages couldn’t be more different. To be sure, there is ample room for a phenomenological compare and contrast (the Southern stage is so large and deep, its audience sits so much higher, above the stage; unlike the intimate and gently sloping Jungle, the Southern is cavernous with a steep pitch to the audience…) and such comparisons would be correct, but miss the point. Or, rather, they fail to score any points…
Because at the heart of The Wolves (and my affection for them) there is a physicality, but it's not the physicality of the stage or my relationship to it as a viewer. It is the girls’ relationships to their bodies, each other’s bodies. It is about the strenuous activity we watch them prepare for, and the many activities they subject their bodies to (as well as the ways others impose on them). It’s about being in a body in the world, and the ways it is similar and different for women.
Instead of calling each other by their first names, the Wolves refer to each other as their numbers. Jungle was very fortunate to bring back the full cast for this remount, which makes sense when you see them together. Set in the small moments before their games, the players stretch, laugh, gossip, and warm up together. Rarely is the whole group engaged in one conversation and as the smaller exchanges splinter off, alliances and group dynamics reveal themselves. With 9 players on the field most of the time and no names, learning the Wolves can be intimidating. While the Wolves have been playing together for a very long time, it is through their newest team member #46 (Megan Burns) that we learn more about them all. Burns is fantastic in this role -- infectious when excited or sad, she plays the outcast role well. #14 (Chloe Armao) is best friends with #7 (Becca Hart), but tensions over boyfriends and boundaries have created a schism in the pair. #00 (Isabella Star LeBlanc) and #25 (Shelby Rose Richardson) are both the backbones of the team, as goalie and captain, respectively. Both are isolated from the others by their self-imposed distance: #00 because she has terrible anxiety and cannot usually speak before the games, and #25 because she keeps trying to motivate and coach her unruly teammates using the usual platitudes. #2 (Meredith Casey) worries about children and knits for unicef, but all her concern belies a deeper problem she feels with herself. #8 (Rosey Lowe) is nerdy and doesn’t like introspection (her sad backstory later proves why this is the case). Finally, #13 (McKenna Kelly-Eiding) and #11 (Michelle de Joya), run a bit more at the periphery of the group: #13 is louder and perhaps not quite as studious as the others, and #11 is a bit more reserved, not always sharing her teammates opinions. I suspect this is the type of show whose dynamic changes sublely each night, with the confluence of lines sometimes highlighting different struggles and particular personalities. This time, I felt I understood #8 much better than the first time I saw it. The team has great rapport, and their soccer skills are still as convincing as ever. It adds an extra bit of emotion to imagine them reuniting to tell this story once again, and the pleasure they have in acting together is evident.
That being said, upon repeat viewing, I noticed a few things that had alluded me before: there is a smattering of everything that can go wrong in a girl’s life -- dead parents, unfortunate sexual encounters, anorexia/bulimia, divorce/remarriage, contentious relationships with siblings and parents, etc. that can feel a bit too convenient and contrived. It is also rather unapologetically Second Wave -- here the women were all born and identify as women, and their families have enough financial means to devote to their children’s sporting careers. There is a part of me that is glad for a female version of some of our great sporting stories, but my more cynical side reminds me that the reason I identify so much with the Wolves is that we share a very similar backstory of privilege and sport. This doesn't mean that The Wolves isn’t worthwhile telling, or remounting, but these thoughts did make me less enamored than I was upon first blush. I guess that means they will just need to keep writing and staging plays about women and telling new, different stories (please note my sarcasm-- of course we should be doing this!). It feels like Sarah Rasmussen is up for the challenge.
If you missed it the first time, this is an unprecedented chance to see a play that was on the top of everyone’s favorites of 2018. Don’t take the chance for granted! The Wolves runs at The Southern Theater until February 17.