By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
It’s only fitting that Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre would open Sarah Delappe’s The Wolves the same week the United States Women’s Soccer team demanded $67 million from the US Soccer Federation in return for dropping their upcoming lawsuit claiming gender bias. The women are paid less than the Men’s team despite higher viewership figure … and, oh yeah, they’ve won the World Cup two years in a row.
Delappe’s play, a 2017 Pulitzer nominee, places us in the middle of the weekly Saturday games of a girls’ high school soccer team, The Wolves, who are having one of their best seasons, almost certainly heading to nationals, and college team scouts have been lurking at some of the games.
The Wolves continues through March 8 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Downtown, 412/392-8200. www.pittsburghplayhouse.com
For those of you who thought Sue Barker was properly chastised at Wimbledon in 1977 because her hemline was too short, The Wolves most definitely isn’t the play for you. The nine high school girls on the team are light years removed from what used to be considered “ladies sports.” They are vicious, foul mouthed, emotionally warped and mind-numbingly competitive. And that’s Delappe’s point; women aren’t the delicate flowers we like to imagine – they’re flawed, fully-alive human beings with brutal capabilities and a driving quest for agency.
Delappe hasn’t really supplied a plot; this is more a series of snapshots following the team through a season brimming with individual and group drama. In a way it reminded me of another Pulitzer nominee, Clare Barron’s Dance Nation. That show covered similar ground … only instead of soccer it was girls competitive dance. It’s unfair, I know, to compare the two but while I was totally swept away by Dance Nation I found that The Wolves was more a play I should like rather than one I did.
Delappe certainly knows how to keep the pace up and the action moving and in that she is given a great assist with enthusiastic work from Point Park director Rachel Stevens. But where Barron, in her play, used the specific experiences of the girls to make huge points about women and the world, Delappe never raises her sights beyond the tiny sphere of her work. If her “message” is that women can be as awful as men – believe me, I know. I grew up in a house with four girls. But what her larger points are, I couldn’t really discern.
On the other hand, maybe she only wanted to represent the quotidian lives of these girls and never mind about the larger landscape. If so, she’s certainly achieved that.
But it might have had a bigger pay-off if those lives didn’t feel so manufactured and deliberate. Each of the Wolves has some “problem”; one is anorexic/bulimic, one suffers from daddy-issues. One of the team members recently had an abortion, another is over-achieving for parental approval. One drinks, another’s severely depressed, one has no parental oversight, one has too much …
It really does feel as if each is living inside her own “After School Special” and once a week gathers to compare notes. When we realize everyone has a behavioral health issue, we understand we’ve got nine scenes ahead, each spotlighting a particular trouble. Fortunately Delappe is great writing dialogue which sounds just like human beings speak and that mitigates some of the monotony. Unfortunately, she ends the play with a scene unsupported by context, does nothing to illustrate anything before it and exists solely as emotional manipulation.
Director Stevens does a great job driving the play but I do need to say that this is a nuance-free production and Stevens is relentless keeping everything dialed up to “11.” There’s a definite plus to that, we don’t get bogged down in some of Delappe’s most obvious schematics, but when everything is unloaded at the same level it can be more than a little tiring.
It takes a cast of superhuman strength to play the unleavened intensity Stevens requires, but lucky for her and us she’s found them. Emily Sharick, Jordan Marie McMillan, Ashlyn Prieto, Jordon Beltz, Emily Rose Cofer, Zoey Myers, Lexi Rae Smith, Morgan Snowden and Elise Dorsey are a singularly fierce and entertaining wolf pack and never more thrilling when working together as an ensemble to put across this vivid, if problematic, Delappe play.