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Syracuse Stage Presents the Critically Acclaimed Play ‘The Wolves’
The Syracuse Stage season continues with the critically acclaimed “The Wolves,” Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama about nine young women soccer players. Co-produced with the Department of Drama in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and directed by Melissa Rain Anderson, “The Wolves” runs Jan. 22–Feb. 16 in the Storch Theatre at the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Complex, 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse.
Set on an indoor soccer field somewhere in suburban America, “The Wolves” unfolds over six wintry Saturdays as the players warm up for each successive match. Working their way through drills and stretches, the 16- and 17-year-old teammates speak openly about what is on their minds: Cambodian history, weekend plans, boyfriends and much more. Their conversations are frank, raw, uncensored and, as director Anderson points out, absolutely true.
“It’s a voice we haven’t heard. The teenage girl. It’s basically a locker room of 16- and 17-year-old women. And that’s a voice that I don’t think we’ve ever had the opportunity to peer in on,” Anderson says. “I don’t know any other play like it. It’s rare, and it’s raw, and sometimes relentless, and sometimes uncomfortable, like maybe we shouldn’t be listening to this talk.”
The sometimes-surprising frankness of the dialogue is intentional and purposeful. In writing “The Wolves,” DeLappe was determined to create “young women as full-blooded athletes and complex characters, not reduced to types: daughters, sex objects, girlfriends.”
She explains: “I wasn’t interested in recreating any stereotypical version of female adolescents in the suburbs of America. I was interested in trying to treat them as complicated, multidimensional people. They’re just figuring out who they are and what the world is and what their place in the world is. I think a lot of the play is actually tracking these shifts in identity and this struggle to find out who they are within the peer group.”
A significant part of the success of DeLappe’s writing is the way the characters reveal themselves to each other through fast-paced overlapping dialogue that exposes their individual strengths and vulnerabilities as they seemingly banter about the quotidian matters of their lives.
“Young women love it; it rings really true to them. I’ve heard over and over, ‘that’s exactly how it is,’” says Anderson, who successfully directed a production at St. Louis Repertory last year. “We’re not used to seeing younger women talk like that. But I think there is power in it. They own their bodies. They own their words. They own everything about it. It can be shocking and jolting, but it’s absolutely the truth. You know that this is how they’re speaking to each other. Maybe not to their parents or their teachers, but yes, to each other.”
With multiple conversations often occurring simultaneously, “The Wolves” presents exciting challenges for the cast and director. “It’s very much like conducting a nine-piece orchestra,” Anderson says. It also makes for a particularly engaging experience for the audience.
“You never sit back,” she explains. “You’re like a detective. You’re leaning in trying to figure out what they are saying, what the relationships are.”
In addition, much of the time the players are warming up or practicing soccer drills as they verbally spar with each other. Anderson says DeLappe has written the play as if it were a soccer match. “They pass the ball, they grab the ball, they play as a team, and they play very aggressively with their words. The form is completely fascinating to me.”
DeLappe says the physicality has been important to her since she started writing “The Wolves.” She likens the team to women warriors preparing for battle. The play, she says, is a story filled with young women in which they aren’t girlfriends or daughters or love interests or sexual objects, but athletes—where it was about their bodies, but about their ownership of their own bodies, and the strength of their own bodies.
“When I started writing ‘The Wolves,’ I knew I wanted it to be my version of the WWII movie, only on a soccer field rather than a battlefield,” DeLappe says. “As a kid, I would see so many superhero movies, Westerns, sci-fi movies, all, of course, with almost all-male casts, except maybe for the obligatory girlfriend, the mother back home or the prostitute with the heart of gold. All of these films depict how these disparate men became one organism. They had to in order to survive. I wanted women to have access to the same material, with no limitations.”
Throughout the run of “The Wolves,” Syracuse Stage will partner with the YWCA of Syracuse & Onondaga County’s “Soccer for Success” program, offered nationally by the U.S. Soccer Foundation. Soccer for Success, like “The Wolves,” is less about soccer than it is about something much deeper—teaching critical life skills and healthy habits through trained coach-mentors, building confidence and collaboration and sharing new skills that may even provide a pathway to college. The program provides no-cost soccer instruction and uniforms to area children each year, focused on those for whom the costs and location of private soccer development programs would be a barrier. As part of Syracuse Stage’s commitment to community partnerships, a cleat drive for Soccer for Success will be held at the theatre throughout the production. Please consider donating new or gently used soccer cleats, which can be placed in the collection bins in the lobby.