Pictured: Ensemble of THE WOLVES. Photo by Cynthia Levin.
By Abigail Trabue
Sarah DeLappe’s THE WOLVES, a 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is a startlingly honest look at the complex inner workings of being a teenage girl, and being a competitive soccer player. Both come with fierce competition and tough calls, and both are exhausting.
At 90 mins, and with no intermission, THE WOLVES hits hard from the start, moving at a pace pretty akin to that of a soccer game. DeLappe’s script taps into the world of adolescence through dialogue that is humorous, real, gentle, and ugly, flying from topic to topic with multiple conversations overlapping each other in a perfectly choreographed dance. There’s barely a subject left undiscussed, as this team of young women comes together week after week to warm up before a soccer match.
Thankfully, the typical teenage clichés are checked at the door, and Unicorn’s production, under the direction of Heidi Van along with a cast that is clearly invested, checks off most of the boxes needed to make this script work. Physically, you can see time has been put into creating an atmosphere that feels believable, and even though it’s not quite at the skill level we are expected to believe, these 9 actors do more than most of us can with a soccer ball, and that is to be respected. Designed as an ensemble piece, the cast overall works incredibly well together, moving through the drills as one, and working through some emotionally heavy shit without beating us over the head with it.
It’s fascinating — which is why it doesn’t need the kind of ending DeLappe tacked on. Having sat through 75 minutes of innovative, raw and engaging dialogue, dialogue that is fresh and offers a real glimpse into a complex time, to wrap it up with such a forced plotline, frankly, left me speechless. It felt so typical. And yet, I can’t hate the ending, because it causes Carla Noack to turn in a performance that should not be missed. Noack is such a specific actor. She is engaging and open and in five minutes she spills her entire heart on that soccer field and then kicks it around as we all watch in gut-wrenching sorrow. I was undone.
With so much holiday fare out there, I appreciate theaters that strive to offer a little variety this time of year. The work the Unicorn, alongside the UMKC theater department, has put into THE WOLVES is to be celebrated, and while the ending is nothing new, it’s still a fascinating piece of theater that deserves to be seen and will stick with you long after you exit into that cold Kansas City winter night.
THE WOLVES runs through December 30. For more information visit unicorntheatre.org.