Review: BETC production of ‘The Wolves’ tackles teen growth on artificial turf
BETC cast brings justice to intimate, raw production of Pulitzer Prize-nominated play
The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s regional premiere of Sarah DeLappe’s small-ensemble drama “The Wolves” explores both subjects, focusing on a female team of teen indoor soccer players as they progress through a single, tumultuous season. Directed by BETC managing director Rebecca Remaly, the production is an intimate, immediate and dynamic portrait that’s built to have a wide appeal.
As they strive to win games and make it to the finals, the members of the Wolves — a team of nine young women from dramatically different backgrounds — are also occupied with the even more challenging demands of growing up. They face the sometimes painful and ever confounding transformations of their changing bodies, they tackle questions of love and sex, they juggle the demands of the present and the looming future. The group even begins to digest the broader history of their wider world, sorting through the implications of genocides and war crimes that they’ve encountered in social studies classes, even as they address their first encounters with profound personal loss.
And all of this awkward, painful and difficult growth takes place in the simple confines of the soccer field.
DeLappe’s drama forgoes the expected settings of a standard coming-of-age, teen drama and opts to leave it all on the turf. The BETC production does justice to that vision; the 90 minutes of action takes place entirely on a blank stretch of green artificial turf in the intimate confines of the Carsen Theater, with loose soccer balls serving as the main set dressing.
The show’s minimalism doesn’t take away from the weight of the action or the power of the performances. The show’s troupe of nine lead actors shine in this simple setting, and manage to do complete justice to the playwright’s vision. The protagonists’ varying personalities and separate struggles seem to come to light even quicker on set designer Tina Anderson’s barely adorned stage. What’s more, the fact that each character is known primarily by their number on the team makes their traits feel even more distinct.
Catalina Garayoa (#14), Rebakah Goldberg (#11), Hannah Haller (#2), Máire Higgins (#13), Tara Kelso (#8), Erika Mori (#7), Kate Parkin (#46), Hannelore Rolfing (#00) and Lois Shih (#25) all manage to shine in a dramatic setting that would be a challenge for even the most experienced actor, thanks to the chaotic structure of the text. Taking place entirely on the field before key games, the action often features simultaneous strands of dialogue between players. In the first scene, for example, one group of girls discusses newly learned history lessons about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, while their fellow athletes on the other side of the stage debate the pros and cons of feminine hygiene products.
As one would expect on a crowded field of teen athletes, there’s cross-dialogue, insults, suggestive language and peals of laughter. Even so, a compelling, character-driven narrative emerges from the noise, and each actor contributes to the overall effect with their carefully studied portrait.
Garayoa is a promising athlete who’s trying to navigate the minefield of first loves and future college prospects. Goldberg plays another veteran of the sport trying to deal with the pressures of winning the current game and thinking of entering the world of college sports. Haller is perfectly cast as one of the more naive members of the team, a teenager who attends a religious school and whose helicopter parents do their best to protect her from the world.
Higgins is the consummate wisecracker, rendering very real and very serious struggles into quips and gags, while Kelso plays a young woman who’s already faced a serious amount of loss. Mori is the team’s star striker, a player who enjoys the spotlight even as she experiments in her personal life. Parkin is the unlikely soccer star, a home-schooled teen who’s just joined the team and who shows an inexplicable amount of promise. Rolfing is the taciturn overachiever, the team goalie whose performance on the field, and in the long list of other extra-curricular activities, defines her self-worth. Shih is the rugged, determined captain, the player expected to create a cohesive team out of the Wolves’ patchwork of personalities.
Along with Anne Penner’s brief appearance onstage as one of the players’ mother, the cast make the text’s sometimes disjointed themes and issues cohere in a drama that feels raw, honest and true-to-life. The multitude of issues that these young women tackle before the whistle blows hints at the pitfalls and hurdles that face the contemporary teenager. As these teens work to make sense of history’s greatest crimes and life’s most unjust vagaries, they also struggle to come to terms with their own identities, strengths and future. The questions feel at once current and timeless; this is a story about young women growing up in the 21st century, and it’s also a story about young women growing up, period.
Remaly and the cast harness all the boundless and mind-boggling energy of DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play and make it feel real and approachable. Teenagers made up a good portion of the audience at a recent performance, and their reaction was telling. As the selection of current pop tunes sounded at the outset of the show, they danced along and giggled; by the end of the performance, they were silent and thoughtful, struck by the stories and emotions that had just unfolded on stage.