Oakton High School
When nine teenage girls step onto the turf of their indoor soccer stadium, they're a mass of identical jerseys, earbuds, and backpacks. As they lace up their cleats and begin stretching, their only identity is the white number on their uniform. However, each actress onstage in HB Woodlawn Secondary Program's "The Wolves" infuses her character with personality and life in this brilliantly acted snapshot of teenage years.
Written by Sarah DeLappe, "The Wolves" premiered in 2016 off-Broadway. The play was critically lauded, becoming a 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist. Taking place over the course of several weeks, "The Wolves" follows the eponymous girls' soccer team as they warm up before each game.
Strong ensembles, like soccer teams, must work together to operate as a unit, and the nine actresses who form The Wolves are a stellar pack. They translate DeLappe's dialogue into authentic conversations, seamlessly transitioning from discussions of Cambodian genocide to gossiping about a teammate behind her back. When personal tragedy hits the team, the girls become more reserved, yet still go on their phones and complain about mortifying zits. The actresses present this egocentric attitude not judgmentally, but instead as evidence of how difficult it is for young people to cope with loss. Each portrayal is as crude and dramatic as real teenagers, hinting at the girls' lives off the turf. Additionally, as evidenced by the constant passes and kicks executed throughout the play, the cast proves quite good at soccer.
The team captain, #25, is played by Vivienne Blouin. Blouin is perfect as an overly upbeat leader, pushing her team hard after losses and spouting motivational sayings ("Teamwork makes the dream work!"). She frequently spars with #7 (Charlotte Moulton), the team's quintessential mean girl. While her teammates may want to hang onto their youth for as long as possible, Moulton shows her character's rejection of childhood through cattiness and near-constant cursing. Despite her attitude, Moulton's layered performance makes #7 one of the most sympathetic characters on the team.
Sophia Radday shines as #46, the newest - and most alienated - member of the team. Radday is heartbreaking as she's ignored during conversations and her well-meaning jokes fall flat; however, Raddy's awkward yet incredibly endearing performance make watching her gain confidence a treat.
Additionally, Jasmina Tang's stoic goalie, #00, has few lines yet shows observance and suffering in her facial expressions alone; Lia Adams's #13 brings levity to each scene with her ability to turn everything into a joke; and the one non-player, Soccer Mom (Leah Hall), is heart-wrenching as she reminisces in a grieving, rambling soliloquy toward the end of the play.
Miranda Baltaxe's direction, with assistance from Lex Garcia, makes the audience feel as if they're sitting on the bleachers, watching each slice-of-life scene occur up close. Their intimate staging and pacing of the play, letting each conversation overlap, feels grounded while never becoming dull.
The lighting is subtle, with spotlights illuminating #00 and #2 during their respective breakdowns, while the sound scores transitions with peppy, girl-power anthems. The hairstyles that each girl sports (designed by Katie Rau) are a key component in distinguishing the girls early on, from #46's unique buns to #25's uptight braids.
Each shot that the directors and cast at HB Woodlawn take scores a goal in "The Wolves". The ferocity reaches a fever pitch at the finale, as the players gather for one final pre-game huddle, their chant - "We are The Wolves!" - grows from a rumble into the howl of a heartbroken pack of players.
Oakton High School
Nine girls, distinguishable only by numbers plastered on their uniforms, descend the turf-lined black box theatre, determined. Their warm up conversations vary weekly from mulling over the complex ethics of Cambodian genocide to taking goofy photos with orange slice smiles, courtesy of #14's token soccer mom. They are women. They are fierce. They are The Wolves. HB Woodlawn Secondary Program's production of "The Wolves" soared and scored, creating a force to be reckoned with.
A fly-on-the-wall experience revolving around weekly Saturday morning practice, this show is an ensemble experience following an indoor female soccer team in their battles against other teams, each other, and the legitimate struggles of adolescence. When tragedy strikes, the girls find a profound understanding of what it means to be a team. Devised by budding playwright Sarah DeLappe, "The Wolves" received critical acclaim as a 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist and the 2017 Obie Award for Ensemble work after its 2016 premiere at The Duke at 42nd Street Theater.
Crass and brassy, #7 portrayed by Charlotte Moulton reached alpha status with her domineering presence. Only when faced with new competition and injury does her indomitable facade begin to crack, revealing her more vulnerable side.
In one of the most honest characterizations of the show, Isabella Russo shined as #7's right hand woman, #14. Russo found the nuance of trying to fit in and the struggles of peer pressure from an admired friend culminating in a vicious, climactic fight between her and Moulton.
Portraying the only adult character in the play, "Soccer Mom," Leah Hall found the courage and resolve of a mother stricken with grief. Her broken but mighty characterization left audiences heartbroken as she delivered a scattered yet resolved monologue to the team.
Leading the pack as Team Captain, Vivienne Blouin playing #25, asserted the confidence necessary to wrangle the team with her strong, authoritative presence. #13, portrayed by Lia Adams, had brilliant timing and honesty as the catalyst of comedy throughout the show. Quiet and focused as #00, the goalie, Jasmina Tang's few lines were just as pointed as her nonverbal characterization. Finally, Sophia Radday's consciously socially awkward portrayal of the new girl, #46, resonated with audiences and beautifully conveyed the bitter feeling of being left out.
These characters and their connections were brilliantly fostered and molded by student director Miranda Baltaxe and assistant director Lex Garcia. Their understanding of pacing, stage picture, and underlying meaning lent to a performance well beyond their collective years.
In desperate, honest moments, such as #00's panic attack or #2's binge eating, Lights (Amelia Myers, Lily Shirley) and Sound (Emerson Parker, Rylee Neumann) combined forces to peer into the players' souls. Playing a subtle heartbeat and variably dimming and adding lights created both an isolated, claustrophobic feel and a full, team atmosphere when necessary which enhanced this seemingly technically simple play.
HB Woodlawn Secondary Program's production unapologetically validated not just the lives of a U-17 Girls' soccer team, but also young women in numerous and varying fields of interest. With camaraderie and spirit, audiences were left with the feeling that they too are The Wolves.