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Theater review by Adam Feldman
“Let’s see some, uh, smart soccer today,” says the only adult character in Sarah DeLappe’s exceptional The Wolves. A soccer mom (Mia Barron), she enters to deliver a poignant monologue at the very end of the play; for the prior 80 minutes, DeLappe and director Lila Neugebauer immerse us in the world of the teenage players. In the first scene, the girls stretch in sync on Astroturf, making small talk about huge issues: the Khmer Rouge, the detainment of Mexican childen. What they say is initially lost in a cloud of overtalk, but The Wolves asks us to listen more carefully, and to pay attention. As the team members differentiate themselves from the pack, the play teases out larger questions hidden amid its keen naturalism.
The characters are referred to only by the numbers on their jerseys—at least, tellingly, until they are no longer active players. It is tempting just to compliment their teamwork as a whole, but they merit individual mention. There’s the wisecracking #13 (Jenna Dioguardi) and the opinionated #11 (Susannah Perkins); the tough-talking #7 (Brenna Coates), who is dating a college guy, and #14 (Samia Finnerty), her more reticent sidekick; the guarded goalie, #00 (Lizzy Jutila), who throws up when she’s nervous, and the fragile, excitable #2 (Sarah Mezzanotte), who throws up when she binges on food. Team captain #25 (Paola Sanchez Abreu) stoically keeps the team together despite the swirls of competition, gossip, resentment and sexual confusion that sometimes explode into confrontations, as jokes take wrong turns into sensitive subjects. When new player and general oddball #46 (Tedra Millan) overhears #2 making fun of the fact that she lives in a yurt—which #2 calls a yogurt—she is undaunted. While demonstrating her impressive foot skills, she chants, “I live in a yogurt, my feelings don’t get hurt”—a mantra you may be tempted to adopt as your own.
“I just don’t get what the big deal is about, like, self-knowledge,” says the stubbornly girlish #8 (Midori Francis). But DeLappe takes all of them seriously. Her hopeful, respectful play is an implicit reproach to those who worry or complain about kids today. Seeing The Wolves for a second time—a hit last year, it has been brought back for an encore run at Lincoln Center, with nearly all of its excellent original cast—I picked up on a number of things I had missed the first time. The soccer here is smart as hell.
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center (Off Broadway). By Sarah DeLappe. Directed by Lila Neugebauer. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through Jan 7.