It sure smells like teen spirit on this AstroTurf. Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves takes hormonal adolescent minutiae and sits it right next to Cambodian dictators in a play tracing the trials and triumphs of a girls’ indoor soccer team in self-described middle America.
DeLappe’s play premiered off-Broadway and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2017, so it was always going to be interesting to see how an Australian outfit would realise it on stage at Belvoir Street’s Upstairs Theatre.
Dialect coaches have clearly been hard at work on this group of Australian rising stars— their American twangs give nothing away.
Good thing too, because the focus of The Wolves is dialogue. Lines run over one another. The chatter is life-like, there are inscrutable transitions from sincerity to aloofness. The girls shriek about tampons in the same breath as condemning one of their own for her racial insensitivity. Blowjobs and Pol Pot occupy the same conversation. The short, snappy back-and-forth of the conversations is matched by the rhythmic training sessions set to a heavy drum-beat: there is a trance-like repetition in the tight ball passes, the squats, the high-knees. These girls are preparing for war.
Not that they know much about war. Their conversations about international politics are tellingly half-baked (“I don’t think they have Skype in Cambodia”) but reflect a desire to engage in a world which doesn’t make it easy. The girls themselves are buoyant but amorphous figures for the first few vignettes of the play, with 7’s chatter easily mistakeable for 25’s or 13’s. They take some time to dissolve into form. However, they do so, convincingly: sharp, stoic Captain, socially anxious Goalie, and prodigious New Girl each hold their own.
The soccer goal like-netting separating the stage from the audience is like a porous barrier behind which the girls gaze out onto the world: a part of it and so apart from it in their adolescent guilelessness. This is a story about young women navigating the world and discovering their place within it and within a team. But sometimes they risk being parodies of themselves (“We should be like very, very thankful for our liberties, you know?”). It’s fashionable to decry the demise of language and point to teenage girls as the culprits. But let’s just let them say ‘like’, you know?
The team structure of the play gives all the actors room to flex their talents, but 7, played by Sarah Meacham particularly buoys the energy of her scenes. Sharp dialogue and earnest performances under the direction of Jessica Arthur smooth over a plot which seems all but inserted into the ending of the play, leaving the training vignettes feeling like background noise to the real drama of the piece.
But the adolescent energy the young actors are so adept at channelling allows for real emotion to shine through. The girls’ chanting the quivering power with which they repeat hypnotically, rising to hysteria, “We are the Wolves, we are the Wolves…” doesn’t fall short of mesmerising. They are on their own (Astro)turf here, and the power within that is palpable.
At Belvioir, Sydney until March 3
Photo by Brett Boardman