The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre have put together an exciting young cast to share Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer shortlisted firecracker of a play, The Wolves, with Toronto audiences for the first time. Centred on a girls’ soccer team, DeLappe’s play gives us what pretty much no other play has; young girls, in their own element, speaking as they do, overlapping, multiple conversations at once, simultaneously ultra-serious and completely silly. This play is an important landmark in playwriting. Reading it the first time, the structure and language reminded me of first encounters with Caryl Churchill….fiery, searing, powerful, and undeniably female.
This production, directed by Courtney Ching-Lancaster, makes use of a thrust setup and minimalist turf setting, showcasing the all female cast and giving them nowhere to hide. Off the top the energy is a bit over-the-top, but within a few minutes, as the overlapping chatter begins, the actors settle in and we start to see the girls as they are. There are lots of reasons to be nervy as a performer, with a lot of ball manipulation required throughout, and extremely challenging dialogue. A standout is Amakah Umeh as 00, the perfectionist goalkeeper, who simply radiates, despite the fact that we hear very little from her.
The scenes are divided by movement scenes set to abstract electronic music; I hoped for a bit more in these sequences, ultimately they felt like filler rather than urgent and necessary….they detracted from the forward momentum of the script. On the whole, I craved more movement that was representative of soccer bodies in space. While the performers did move a lot, it somehow felt static, and not necessarily linked to the pace of the play. The most compelling moment was 00’s fierce repetition of man-makers, until you feel like she might vomit; an honest portrayal of the fierce determination of these young women to succeed. The overall pace was decent, however I felt it lacking a musicality in the build-up and release of tension as the voices and conversations move over one another, then disperse, from density to sparsity so easily. As a result, some of the tension building in final moments was, for me, a bit lacking.
All that, however, does not detract from the overall necessity and importance of this show. I saw the production with my 14 year old, who herself is among the elite soccer players her age in the province. She has seen a lot of theatre, so has some high expectations; it has been a long time since I have seen her as captivated and engaged in a story. It is such a telling demonstration of what representing experiences on stage can do for someone. Please, please; if you can take a young woman in your life to this play, do.