Theater review: ‘The Wolves’ has bite in dynamic Marin Theatre Company debut
There’s something fascinatingly unusual going on in the West Coast premiere of “The Wolves” at Marin Theatre Company. Playwright Sarah DeLappe’s debut play, which premiered off-Broadway in 2016, puts us in the room with a high school girls’ indoor soccer team somewhere in Middle America as they train and warm up for weekend games.
Kristen Robinson’s spacious set really conjures up the wide-open expanse of an indoor soccer field, with high institutional walls and artificial turf. But more than anything, what creates the illusion of an actual team actually preparing to play is the deft physicality of the young performers in the all-female cast of 10 in this dynamic production directed by New York-based Marin native Morgan Green (who reportedly played soccer herself when she was a student at Redwood High School). Nine local high school students act as understudies.
More often than not, the players are in motion. They’re stretching, doing exercises, kicking the ball back and forth with keen precision. And they’re always talking, sometimes conversing as a group, sometimes having overlapping cross-conversations, whether it’s about half-understood world events, tampons or gossip about classmates.
The play is really a portrait of these young women, more as a team than as individuals. The players are never referred to by their names, although they sometimes mention unseen classmates by name, so when we actually hear a couple of their names late in the play it’s disorienting in an effective way.
We get to know them to a limited degree by osmosis, just by hanging out and watching them do their thing. Sango Tajima functions as an upbeat team captain, rallying the troops in the absence of their unseen and seemingly useless coach. Emma Roos is the hotshot team striker who affects a hard-boiled, standoffish stance with her teammates, bonding mainly with Jannely Calmell in semi-abusive banter. Betsy Norton is largely silent but tremendously affecting as the anxiety-plagued lone wolf goalie who always clams up before matches and usually has to run off to throw up at least once.
Isabel Langen is an earnest and insecure girl with an eating disorder, while Nicole Apostol Bruno is loud and hearty, Carolyn Faye Kramer bewildered and weepy, and Portland Thomas is contemplative and exhausted from talking to her two exhausting therapist parents. Neiry Rojo is amusingly and touchingly awkward in trying to join the conversation as a homeschooled newbie to the otherwise close-knit team.
Liz Sklar enters late but makes an indelible impression as a Soccer Mom trying to remain upbeat in a devastating, rambling monologue. In a sense it’s the most play-like moment in the play, but it’s no less effective for that.
The scene changes are dramatic in themselves, the blackouts further obscured by bright lights around the edge of the stage in Masha Tsimring’s lighting design and loud sounds of panting and percussive collisions in Madeline Oldham’s sound design.
The play doesn’t have a plot in a conventional sense. Things happen, to be sure, but mostly between scenes, and they’re alluded to and talked around more than actually discussed. That makes it all the more alarming when it suddenly becomes starkly clear that something terrible has happened and our ears perk up to glean what it might be, hanging on any hint of details and scanning the stage for who’s as yet unaccounted for.
“The Wolves” is marvelously effective at conjuring that sensation of just being in the room and scrambling to catch up with what’s happening in a way that feels fresh and utterly involving. It makes one curious to discover what else this first-time playwright might have in store for us in the future.
— Sam Hurwitt, Marin Independent Journal Read full review