Let’s throw it to “The Wolves”


Photo credit: Matthew Claybrook

Photo by Matthew Claybrook

At risk of sounding like your great aunt who thinks “Hamilton” might just be a “bit too political for her,” I miss the days when the Trinity mainstage show was Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” No political commentary, no “oh-so-relevant” connections to real-life movements, no straight-faced, serious drama. Just murder. And fun. Fun murder!

Last weekend, the Department of Theatre premiered its first mainstage play of 2019. “The Wolves” follows a soccer team made up of nine teenage girls, showing their conversations during weekly pre-game warm-ups. The acting, the sound, the lighting and the stage were all impeccably directed and designed. For a play with very little action outside of some light soccer warm-ups, the cast achieved a rare feat of keeping the audience interested for 90 minutes without intermission.

The cast members, all identified solely by the numbers on the backs of their jerseys, sustained a continuous forward motion by keeping the audience on their toes. They carried a consistent balance between dramatic themes and comedic dialogue. I was very impressed and moved by their performances, with highlights from senior Kate Jones-Waddell’s well-meaning but misunderstood know-it-all and senior Marin Sandoz’s smart but underhanded mean girl.

But despite the good production and acting, I was not a fan of the play itself. The play failed to transcend its premise of “teenage girls are people too!” I know this may sound like a fairly reductive summation of the play, but “The Wolves” was a fairly reductive summation of being a teenage girl.

The playwright Sarah DeLappe has commented on how her influence for the play came from watching war documentaries. Wartime sounds and lighting were deftly carried out, but the war theme meant that the dramatic themes of the play always superseded the comedy. Every 10 minutes of this play was capped by some form of “We live in a society”-style topic, from using a girl’s rumored abortion against her to making fun of breast cancer around a girl whose mom died from the disease. Teenage girls are repeatedly shown to be mean, misunderstood and melodramatic. All of these may be true observations, but there is a lack of humanity in this play’s refusal to allow its characters to exist without issue.

Worse, none of the major themes were looked at long enough for there to be any depth to the exploration, and none of them were carried on long enough to have any form of conclusion. Near the end of the play, one of the girls suffers a sexual assault in the week between practices. The assualt is not shown and the character stays silent for the majority of the scene afterwards. By the next practice, that girl has died from completely unrelated causes — a man running her over on an icy road. The sexual assault is never visited or addressed again. Another girl, shown almost with humor, suffers from severe anxiety that leads to her needing to vomit before every soccer game. After attending the dead girl’s funeral, the thought of death miraculously cures anxious girl of her mental illness. And who even knows what’s happening with that girl rubbing orange slices across her face in the darkness after one scene?

“Tell me somethin’ girl / Are you happy in this modern world?” sings the great prophet of our time, Bradley Cooper, on the Oscar-winning song “Shallow” from “A Star is Born.” These lyrics are what I hear plays like this asking its audience every time it goes to another hot-button issue. In the first scene of the play, one half of the team discusses the Cambodian genocide while the other half discusses pads vs. tampons. The obvious message is that high school girls contain multitudes and, no matter the topic, can find many ways to be vicious to one another. By the end, the prophecy is true. The girls aren’t happy in this modern world.