by Sarah DeLappe
Dallas Theater Center
Directed by Wendy Dann
Scenic Design – Steve TenEyck
Costume Design – Sarah Harris
Lighting Design – Adam Honore
Sound Design – Sarah Pickett
Wig Design – Nicole Alvarez
Stage Manager – Anna Baranski
Production Manager – Phil Baranski
Producer – Sarahbeth Grossman
Casting – Binder Casting / Chad Eric Murnane, CSA
#11 – Molly Searcey
#25 – Elena Urdaneta
#13 – Lauren Steele
#45 – Ana Hagedorn
#2 – Kylie Tru Ritter
#7 – Amber Rossi
#14 – Kim Taff
#8 – Zoë Kerr
#00 – Sydney Lo
Soccer Mom – Allison Pistorius
Reviewed Performance: 3/10/2019
Reviewed by Ryan Maffei, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Womxn are very much on people’s minds. Defining Her as a general idea in some shape or fashion, often through the prism of a history of abuse that stretches well past now but you’ve noticed is only recently being seriously discussed, is on a lot of agendas. The Dallas Theatre Center make tasteful much of the femaleness of Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, chuffed as they are by their terrific new version, which they introduced Sunday night with proud-papa aplomb. The Wolves’ hook, besides a verisimilitude jones, is the way it’s a glimpse of the second sex (on a stage disinfected of boys) in a purer form than is typically plentiful – it’s a photorealistic sketch of its characters after school, when we were all a little unguarded from fatigue and weird bursts of energy and other stuff, and on a sports team, when the need for total collective and individual physical and mental focus stripped more received or imposed roles away.
There is gimmick to this concept, and it invites some unease – might a deliberate exercise in rescuing an all-female cast from contextual otherness end up resulting in reverse effects? Few demographics are more readily derided than teenage girls, and could decking them out in garish uniforms and painting them in thrall to developmental whims and self-sacrificing team spirit efficiently help to revolutionarily humanize them? But in fact, the play pulls off its conceit and earned its plaudits. All a company really has to do is just stage The Wolves, ideally simulating situationally impossible intimacy as DTC has here with its close up of the field, to swiftly kick into the underexperienced thrill of watching womanhood totally unencumbered by the oppressive preconceptions of both the other gender and the older age, with a diverse array of imagined personal passions turned combustible by athletic engagement.
And you should book the seats even if you won’t catch a game, because the immersive quality Wendy Dann favors flatters the writing beautifully, and with action so fluid and talk so rocky momentum is on no kind of short order. DeLappe’s girls are meant to sound as discursive and distracted and accidentally profound as real teens, so the lines are jagged and loosely partnered off and scheduled to run into each other. But rendering a serious sports outfit, the blocking makes explicit what the writing is built to hide – it’s orderly and balletic, and never less realistic for it. The players really do throw the ball around and come from all sides and stretch so often you tune it out. The action occurs, with percipient attention to diagonals, on a tight stretch of astroturf in a wee-er than average black box. The juxtaposition of taut, stylistic staging and dialogue roughened for believability is a nifty and nimble brand of compelling.
The play’s flashy strength, the Altmany slice-of-life tack, is elegantly underscored by its secret-weapon strength, another convention up for slaughter – its being solely constructed of moments between what would in other Sports Art be considered climactic, an intentional limit that intensifies the illusion that what we’re watching is really happening. It’s the neglect of the mundane that characterizes so much of what we spot as clichéd, streamlined, inflated, what have you, so downplaying the spectacle of the big kick is one more neat trick by DeLappe. Not that it’s all smoke and mirrors – the content of her girls’ conversations is beautifully drafted, awkward and fluent by turns where turns are needed, as blithe or tacit about the taboo as the hopelessly harmless. The show Goes There like Degrassi, and makes the opposite kind of hay when it arrives: out only to illustrate the truth, and never to sensationalize it.
Our suspension of disbelief does hang on the players, and this Wolves boasts a lineup that could make any rival production nervous. Personal picks for MVPs are Elena Urdaneta, as a petite leader applying iron-fist subjugation to oceans of stress, and Zoë Kerr, who looks the part of a generic high school nerd kid almost as seamlessly as she inhabits it. Ana Hagedorn, Sydney Lo, and Kylie True Renner skillfully synthesize different kinds of social discomfort, Molly Searcy and Lauren Steele do rousing, tender spins on brusque, and Amber Rossi and Kim Taff have fun amplifying the antisocial in forgivable high school antagonism. It’s a good cast, with faces that comfortably serve the respective types’ visual asks, and performances that uniformly speak well of the folks performing them. Yet nagging holes in inflections remain, the life labored out of certain lines, innate verité freshness anticipated if not swatted away.
These delivery issues are the play’s principal flaw; stark realism premised on goings-on this sedate runs on how unmistakably real it feels, and that’s all in the nuances of the execution. But if light infractions against total apparent reality won’t shake you, though, you’re in for a treat – a probing, dynamic show which simmers toward a less explosive outcome than you might expect, but still feels like a rush and a haul, the way growing up makes a few years in relative comfort feel like a lifetime or six of victories and agonies. The show winds unwinded toward the closest thing it has to a climax, relegating the shocks and traumas we see shaping its characters through breaths offstage as it does, a team chant which achieves in a single, powerful moment what the whole play is out to do – depict worlds of raw emotion through pure suggestion, the way we all do around true comrades no matter how much defense we try to play.
Dallas Theatre Center
through March 14th
Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, Studio Theatre
2400 Flora St. Dallas, TX 75201
visit dallastheatrecenter.org for more details.