Photo by Ron Reed
It was the simplest set I have ever seen. Fake lawn. That’s it. Yet, The Wolves is a complex play that presented the most realistic acting by a total ensemble I have ever seen. There was never a moment I doubted each character was exactly who she was supposed to be, an adolescent girl on a soccer team. There was never a moment when the actual actor showed through.
I wish I had been at the opening night to see the performers afterwards, to compare their stage persona with the real person.
The play opens with a soccer team of high school girls stretching and warming up for a big game. All but one of them have been together long enough to cement their relationships and roles within the group. The new girl, gangly and unsure of herself, struggles to fit in after years of international travel and home schooling.
Yet the story is so much more than just the new person’s struggle to integrate. Each of the young women on the team vividly has her own struggles, her own joys, her own secret hopes.
You see the young women play and practise with each other. It is a chance to be a fly on the wall experiencing the joking and sometimes fierce interactions, the strong team ethos, and their budding views of the outside world. Each person performed flawlessly while doing intricate soccer drills and exercises, showing skills not found in all actors.
The lighting seemed simple yet it gently modulated to heighten action and mood. The sound was always clear with the background sound subtly supporting the ambient mood as it changed. Every person’s dialogue was crisp and clear throughout the play. That is one advantage to Pacific Theatre’s lay-out. You are never more than a few rows from the action and the sightlines are flawless.
The blocking in this alley theatre meant no one had their back to us—quite an accomplishment when the audience is in ranks up either side of the stage.
The one big production change I would have liked is an intermission. 100 minutes seemed a long time to sit glued to your seat, engrossed in the play. A wee breather would have been nice.
This play subtly uses all the senses. While not consciously aware of the background sound and the lighting, it enhances the experience. When one of the girls’ moms sends orange slices, there are cries of delight as they remember their childhood games together. The scent of the peel wafts through the theatre, harkening vivid memories for every soccer parent or player in the audience.
Not knowing what to expect, only that it was about a soccer team, I went with an open mind. Not a keen sports fan, I took our Sentinel sports reporter with me.
“The sports part was really just the setting. I don’t think the sports was the basis of the story. It was just the setting,” he said and he was right.
This play, mainly set during warm-ups and practises, has none of the action normally seen in a sports movie with goals both made and missed, or exciting runs. While the stage was full of action, with stretches and drills, the real action was the girls’ motives and emotions, if you want a window into teen girl dynamics when no one else is watching, this is it. If you are looking for the thrill of the game, don’t take a sports reporter with you. Though he did say, “I am glad I went. I was a good show. The thing that I enjoyed most about it was the acting.”
“The Wolves” debuted off Broadway in 2016 and was part of the Lincoln Centre’s programming last season when it was a finalist for a 2017 Pulitzer. It is a fresh, current and accurate portrayal of the intense highs and lows of teenage life for young women. You can see the hints of the adults they will become.
An injury figures in the script and it figured in the cast. The night I saw the play, there was a player substitution. #02, as the character is billed and originally played by Amanda Sum, saw Anjel Magpantay subbing in due to injury. Had I not read it in the program, I wouldn’t have known Magpantay was a later addition to the cast.
Like a gown of the simplest cut, it takes the highest of skill to make a play that looks this simple, flow with clarity and elegance. Every flaw would show. There are none.
My sports reporter colleague liked it and said everything seemed so real it was hard to imagine it was actually scripted, “Especially for that long. It was an unreal accomplishment.”
After the performance, an other audience member said, “I knew there was going to be bad girl Grade 9 behaviour but it wasn’t what I was expecting.” While another called it, “The most honest portrayal of teen behaviour I’ve seen.”
And that was it, the honesty. The performances ran true. The situations, the fears, the pettiness, the grand hopes for the greater world, the injustice and the sense of justice that runs through all of us is heightened by adolescent hormones and the leaving of childhood’s certainty. All that, coupled with the feared, and the longed-for, approach of adulthood makes this play what it is.
Pacific Theatre’s “The Wolves,” acted by this cast, as produced by With A Spoon and Rumble Theatre, is worth seeing. Save the plane fare, hotel fees and time it would take to get to New York. You can see a vibrant, current Broadway-quality play and performance in an intimate, professional theatre here in the Lower Mainland. But, buy your tickets soon. The house was nearly full on a Wednesday night.
“The Wolves” by Sarah DeLappe, presented by Pacific Theatre, a With A Spoon production in association with Rumble Theatre runs through Nov. 10. Clickfor information.