A couple weekends ago I schlepped up to Boston to see a production of The Wolves, by Sarah DeLappe, that was directed by one of my closest friends. She is a theatre educator I’ve been lucky enough to grow up alongside, so when she told me about this production I knew I had to go see it. I walked in knowing nothing about it other than the fact that it’s about a 6v6 indoor soccer team made up of teenaged girls.
The Wolves premiered off-Broadway in Sepetember 2016, and was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Of course, while the play calls for a cast of nine teenagers, that’s not how the entertainment business normally handles things. We’ve all seen a show, whether it be on Broadway or TV, in which a character who is supposed to be 16 years old is played by someone who is 10 years older. Part of that is for the experience and nuance that a 26 year old can bring in comparison. At least that’s my assumption.
Thankfully, I was going to see a cast of age-appropriate young women. And because of that, I was given insight into the lives and struggles of our young women today. Sure, we can look back and remember what it was like when we were 16, what we thought and cared about, but it’s not the same. I was 16 half my lifetime ago. Simply put, it’s a different world in which we live now.
Though, with that being said, there are some things that never change. The beauty of The Wolves is the insight it gives into how these young women are growing up, discovering themselves and their bodies. The opening scene kicks off during warmups before a game. While they stretch and kick a ball around, two separate conversations are happening at once. As an audience member, you need to choose which one to focus on. You’re watching organized chaos. One conversation centered around having their periods and discovering their bodies, while the other focused on a Cambodian genocide.
It’s impossible to hear both at once, but there’s beauty in the juxtaposition of these conversations. Everyone grows up differently. We find our voices and what we care about in different ways. It doesn’t suddenly happen when we turn 16. What I find beautiful in humanity is our individuality, and these young women shone bright while letting us peer into theirs.
Extraordinary young women
This was a true ensemble. These women were a team, and each came with their own quirks. While the characters themselves fall into some of the same tropes we see in teen movies and TV, they don’t hang on to their stereotypes for long. Somehow each of the nine are portrayed with depth and meaning. They proved I wasn’t simply watching these characters, but was getting insight into the lives of today’s society. I think about the shit that I went through as a teen. While I was going through my own stuff, I didn’t understand the gravity that some others may have been going through.
So what’s the point? What does The Wolves touch upon, and why? The answer to this is complicated. Why? Because humans are pretty fucking complicated. I’ll touch upon a small handful of the issues and how the characters live through them.
Their coping mechanism is the team. It’s how they hold on to each other. Even through the personal issues they have, they band together for the good of the game. Is it really for the good of the game? Sure, to an extent. But that bond is important. It keeps them grounded, and keeps them striving toward the same goal. The same purpose.
Men still “dominating” a women’s team
The most subtle issue I came to realize was the fact that the coach and scouts were men. In a play in which we see only women, the people in the position of power are men. This isn’t to say that we don’t have people like Jill Ellis, Sarah Thomas, or Sian Massey-Ellis in the world. But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit to Googling Thomas and Massey-Ellis in order to remember their names. That’s not cool. We need more representation across sports in all aspects of the game.
I looked at a Forbes list of the “World’s Most Powerful Sports Agents” from 2018. While scouring the article, the only woman I found was Jessica Holtz of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA). She leads a team that represents the likes of Chris Paul and Paul George. We need more like her in sports. It’s important to have more coaches, referees, and training staff. Attention must be paid to all people who could be good at these jobs. And, personally, I know a lot of badass women who could fill those types of roles.
The most obvious theme I witnessed is that of discovery. This discovery manifests itself in a number of ways. In that opening scene, throughout their warmups, we hear a lot about their periods. As a 16 year old girl, that’s a hot topic. Who has it? Who doesn’t? Does that make them more or less of a woman? There’s a stigma that girls face at that age, and I’m not going to pretend to know where to begin in talking about it. What I do know is that it’s an important topic that young girls need to deal with, and seeing it discussed in a way that is relatable is sure to help with that.
The pressure of sexuality
Throughout the play, there is mention of #7’s boyfriend. #7 is the “bad girl” of the group, always using profanity and dating a guy who is in college. With the older boyfriend comes the perception that #7 is more advanced than the other girls, discovering sex and a new sense of her womanhood. This can be viewed in a couple different ways.
On one hand, we’re all going to learn about sex at some point. On the other, is this relationship healthy? Is it ok that she is under 18 and he is over 18? It raises some questions among the girls, but also makes you think as an audience member. There’s a view into consent that starts to bubble to the top of your mind.
The most obvious trigger comes when #14, who is #7’s best friend, joins a ski trip at #7’s insistence. #7’s boyfriend is bringing a friend of his, and it’s going to be just the four of them. We eventually learn that things didn’t go as planned on the trip, and #14 feels hurt, betrayed, and angry that #7 left her alone with the other guy. A fight ensues, in which we discover that #14 was uncomfortable with oral sex and #7 claiming it looks bad on her that #14 didn’t follow through.
This speaks a lot to the crushing pressure that sits on the shoulders of teens. Nobody wants to feel left behind during that phase of sexual awakening. But, at the same time, no one should be forced into it when they’re not ready. This is an important lesson for people of all ages, sadly. The fact that The Wolves openly attacks it is another reason for us all, but especially our youth, to see this beautiful piece of theatre.
The silent killers of us as humans are depression and anxiety. And it’s important to note the difference. Depression is a condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater or more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason. Anxiety is a state of apprehension and psychic tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder.
The Wolves doesn’t touch upon depression, but I find it immensely important to separate the two. I’m an anxious person. I experience bouts of anxiety at times and I’m a 32 year old man. I have my coping mechanisms, and it’s something I deal with. And I’m okay, in the case that any of you readers are starting to get worried. My point is only to show that it exists and it’s normal.
Within the play, #00, the team’s goalkeeper, deals with bouts of anxiety part way through every practice before a game. It’s normal, but try telling that to a teenager. In this case, the anxiety comes from a fear of not being good enough. A fear of losing and it being all her fault. #00 keeps to herself at points during warmups, and at some point during them, the anxiety manifests itself so physically, that she needs to run out of practice to vomit. The other girls play it off as it being just part of her, but what if they actually tried to talk things through with her?
Whether we like to admit it or not, we’ve all dealt with anxiety at one point or another in our lives. Whether it’s about a new job, about money, or whether we’ll be good enough on the field, it’s there. It doesn’t hit everyone with the same intensity, but it’s there. And it’s crucial that we see that depicted in the theatre. Finding that common ground and relatability helps open us up. That’s how we’re wired.
The idea of one’s image lives within a few different spots in The Wolves, some of which I’ve already talked about. The badassery of #7, the perceived prude-ness of #14, and how the girls view and react to #00 are prime examples. However there are a couple others that struck me, too.
First, we have #46, the new girl. Her mom is a bit of a wanderer (a traveling journalist), and they live together in a yurt. The other girls don’t really know how to react to her, and make fun of her living in “a yogurt”. She is marked as a bit of a weirdo, and the girls often talk shit about her behind her back and even to her face.
At times it seems as if their meanness is going over her head. It becomes apparent, during one moment in which she’s kicking a ball around with herself saying “I don’t live in a yogurt. I live in a yurt”, that it gets to her. It’s not until #7 suffers an injury and #46 gets her chance to play that her uniqueness is embraced. She even gets called over to speak to a scout thanks to a bicycle kick goal she scored. This seems a very basic “don’t judge a book by its cover” commentary, but that doesn’t take away from its significance.
On a completely different note, we have #2. She deals with concussions, and eventually needs to start wearing a light helmet. She comes across as fragile, and we learn early on that she hasn’t yet had her period. It’s not until we encounter a particular scene, in which she is alone on the field aggressively mowing down orange slices, that we learn there’s something else going on here. And that point is subtly confirmed in the final scene when #14’s mom comments on her being thin and asking if she’s been eating enough.
We never really learn the extent of what’s behind #2’s malnutrition. However I have known people close to me who struggled with body image in high school, and maybe if we saw more theatre like this it would have spoken to them on a deep enough level to ask for help.
Death of a friend
Coping with loss is difficult regardless of age, once you’re aware of what it means. I was too young to understand the loss of both my grandparents on my mother’s side. My first time understanding it enough was losing a pet during elementary school. And I’m lucky enough to have not suffered much tragedy involving people I’m close to who are also close in age to me.
The team gets the unfortunate news that #14 has passed away after getting hit by a car while she was running with headphones on. #00 is our first introduction into the loss, when she has a breakdown on the field. This ultimately helps her overcome her anxiety, but it’s at the price of losing a friend and dealing with those feelings. Beyond #00, we are led into a scene in which the girls show up to their final game, unsure if anyone else is going to be there. Some even blame #14 because she was wearing headphones.
As each arrives, the uneasiness shifts, and their bonds grow stronger. They lean on each other. And, even though they don’t quite know what’s to come or what to say, they band together ready to play. It’s not until #14’s mother makes an appearance that the tension is truly released. We go from a group of young women struggling to contend with the gravity of their game compared to the loss of the friend, to the only adult we see and hear from in the whole piece unleashing a poignant speech.
The importance of The Wolves
I almost feel guilty. I haven’t done a dive into a few other characters, or even mentioned them. But that doesn’t take away from their importance as part of this story and ensemble. #8, #11, #13, and #25 drive this story by making us laugh, cry, feel a little uncomfortable, and journey with them. It can’t be understated how much of a team these young women are, on the pitch, within the play, and no doubt outside the stage and rehearsal room. I can’t commend them enough. Theatre is so important to us here at The Turf, and seeing the gravitas it has, particularly in a youth program, warms my soul. It’s so crucial that these types of programs exist.
As a very anxious adult, I look back and wonder what I could have done to better understand others. A story like The Wolves is incredibly important to tell. It shines a light on these everyday struggles, and gives us a view into a handful of the issues the next great generation faces. In a time of political insanity, particularly here in the United States, we need to understand what kids are thinking and going through. They are the ones who are going to shape the future of this world, after all.
To all involved with the Weston Drama Workshop production of The Wolves, I thank you for reminding me how much I love this. You rock. You should be proud.
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