The Wolves starts strong—then chokes on too many sports movie cliches | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Wolves starts strong—then chokes on too many sports movie cliches 

Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer-nominated play isn’t the landmark of feminist theater it could be.

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click to enlarge Sarah Price, Isa Arciniegas, Natalie Joyce, and Angela Alise in The Wolves

Sarah Price, Isa Arciniegas, Natalie Joyce, and Angela Alise in The Wolves

Liz Lauren

T hey bust out onto the scene like champions, faster and larger than life, feet flying, balls in the air, to Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)." When the colored lights stop strobing and the cheers of the crowd die away, nine teenage girls in red uniforms stand on an Astroturf field in Middle America. They pass a disjointed conversation among themselves as they put themselves through a set routine of warm-ups and drills in unison, a single slap of the hand as it grabs the foot for a quad stretch: They discuss whether Khmer Rouge leaders should be jailed 40 years after the Cambodian genocide, where Cambodia is, whether they have been to Cambodia, how to pronounce "Khmer Rouge," whether the girl who is an Episcopalian is a bitch, whether it's OK to use the word "bitch," snake handling, and how to use a tampon. "We should definitely not, like, take our liberties for granted," says one of them, smart and stupid like every teenager everywhere.

The girls face each other in a circle nearly the entire length of the Goodman's production of Sarah DeLappe's Pulitzer-nominated The Wolves. Seating is in the round, so the primary view from the ground floor is their shiny red backsides as they stretch and lunge and shake out their joints. Their faces are distant, their society insular—they perform for no one but each other, but in sport as in the military, hierarchy and a certain degree of pageantry are always on display. Number 46 (Erin O'Shea) is the new girl, plus she lives in a yurt—which the others call a "yogurt"—so if she weren't a prodigy at soccer, which she calls "football," she'd be sunk.

The American Youth Soccer Organization was founded in 1964 on several principles, including "everyone plays" and "balanced teams." US Youth Soccer followed suit a decade later with the tagline "The game for all kids." In other words, soccer in our country claims to produce an equality we do not yet share as a culture. The Wolves is a play for nine girls and a woman, written by a woman, directed by a woman (Vanessa Stalling), on a set designed by a woman (Collette Pollard). In that sense alone, it ought to be cause for celebration.

However, the play itself is emphatically a play for and about adolescents that seems modeled on mainstream teen sports flicks, never quite living up to the pitch of its eye-popping opening number. The snatches of conversations sketch out character types-the brainy one, the bossy leader, the bad girl, the sidekick, and so on—but none is given the means to develop, and the drama produced by a nasty twist of fate is contrived and then left unexplored. As far as landmarks in feminist theater go, The Wolves is not quite a stepping stone.   v

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