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Courtesy of Cornell University

October 8, 2019

‘The Wolves’ at Cornell’s Schwartz Center is Conversational and Playful

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Upon entering the Schwartz Center’s Class of ’56 Flexible Theatre, audience members step into a room that contains not a stage, but a field.

The audience sits along all four walls in a theatre in the round seating style, facing a green square of turf enclosed by walls of net, like that found on a soccer goal. The actors march from offstage, and once they enter through the openings of the black net walls, they transform from Cornell students to the Wolves, a competitive girls’ indoor soccer team. Written by Sarah DeLappe and a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Wolves takes soccer, an unconventional subject for a play, and creates a story that surprises and engages the audience.

The play opens with the girls discussing the Khmer Rouge on one side of the stretching circle and the benefits of tampons versus pads on the other side. The conversations overlap as the girls bicker, tease and laugh with one another. With their backs turned at times as the girls stretch, pass and run laps, the audience gains a sense of the intimacy between the girls who reveal that they have grown up together on the same soccer teams. Later as they discuss the other girls from their regular season travel team who did not join their indoor team (the Wolves), the audience learns that not only is soccer all that these high school juniors do, but it is also all that matters to them.

The girls of The Wolves compose a team strong in their unity, but different in their individual identity. Number seven is a foul-mouthed and socially confident striker. 46 is the odd-ball new girl with an unnerving talent for a sport she seemingly has never played before and who lives with her travel-writer mother in a “yogurt” (yurt, mispronounced by a teammate as the team struggles to accept number 46 into their tight-knit group) to name a few. All nine girls, however, are fully fleshed out characters with interesting backstories. The Cornell student actresses did a phenomenal job, each portraying her character’s personality in a compellingly realistic way.

The dialogue is completely conversational and the actresses work together to keep it so light, playful and sometimes scathing in a tone fully compliant with the talk and relationships between teenage girls. They discuss the politics of dictators, migrant children placed in cages and teenage pregnancy in a fumbling and not-quite-confident discourse of teenagers gaining their first glimpses into the reality of the world. Watching the girls bitch and moan about running laps in the cold, complain about and compare old and new coaches, laugh and gossip about the other team and discuss their plans for the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I found myself transported back to my own days on a high school soccer team. I felt the same warmth and comradery of my own, albeit far less successful, team.

However, even without the experience of playing on a high school sports team, any member of the audience can find something relatable in The Wolves. Sitting in the audience, I watched the faces of young and old viewers laugh, groan and turn solemn as they followed the ups and downs of The Wolves. You watch as the characters struggle with sexuality, plan for college and the future, finding a place socially to fit in and the changing dynamics of a friend group formed in childhood that is now growing apart as the girls age and mature at their own paces. When a harrowing tragedy strikes the team towards the end, you watch the girls cope, both together and apart. The scene could feel awkward to watch, but it perfectly captured the confusing wrongness of teenagers having to grapple with unexpected calamity. All of these events occur outside of the practices which the play is confined to, but their effects carry over as the girls stretch and prepare to face another game.

The Wolves offers a unique perspective on a group of people who can often go ignored: teenage girls. It showcases the struggles and triumphs of these young women as they come into their own on and off the field. I suggest going to see this play, whether while it runs here at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts or elsewhere as it is a theatrical experience that I have never had before.

The Wolves played at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts Class of ’56 Flexible Theatre from Sept. 26 to 28.

 

Erin Hockenberry is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at eeh67@cornell.edu.