Left – Sofia Nolan and Sarah Meacham. Cover – Cast of The Wolves. Photos – John Marmaras
An indoor sports field in Anywheresville, middle-America. A group of young women in striped and numbered jerseys chat and snipe and laugh while they stretch and squat and pass. At school they might just be girls, but here they are a squad, a pack. Here they are the Wolves.
The World Game is a serious matter for these young women, even in a country that, like us, calls it soccer, and even when playing at a level between school sport programmes and the promised land of recruitment for scholarships. These girls are fiercely competitive, giving up their free time and sometimes their health to pursue this dream. While their banter may seem to suggest their minds are elsewhere, they are very, very determined to win, to make it to nationals, and to impress any prospective college scouts that might come to watch them play. Despite the inattention of the their professional coach, they are determined to succeed together.
Yet it is what happens between the games, even the halves of games, where we get an insight into their lives. What unites these ladies is the love of the game, but often little else. While most seem to attend the same high school, not all of them are necessarily friends off the field, and they come from quite different walks of life. One is from a strictly religious background, another is the beleaguered child of married therapists, while the brother of one girl is the local drug-dealer, and the death of a grandmother still troubles their most seemingly carefree member. Their personalities vary wildly from the bubbly and innocent to the extroverted and sexually active, the repressed and clearly virginal, the hyperactive, the maladjusted, the bitchy and the sweet.
Their differing backgrounds lead to misunderstandings over race and culture, especially when discussing current events regarding politicised immigration detention or the trial of an elderly war criminal. Some are brash and tactless while others are conciliatory, and it is up to their beleaguered and straight-arrow team captain to try to keep them focussed and unified… little knowing that they speculate about her suspected lesbianism behind her back.
Perhaps the greatest source of tension though comes from the presence of a new recruit, a home-schooled girl who recently moved to the area whom none of them know. Living in a yurt two bus-rides away and with unusual body odor, this girl is sweet and modest, yet also strangely tactless, vacillating between introversion and wanting to make friends. Most remarkable though is that her on-field skills mark her as something of a prodigy with the ball, yet her grasp of soccer terminology and the administrative framework of the local competitive circuit would seem to indicate she has never played before.
The Wolves is a fresh and energetic first play by new American playwright Sarah DeLappe, which takes place in and around games of indoor soccer while offering us a chink into the lives and emotionally-charged struggles of a group of older teenaged girls brought together by common purpose, despite their disparate personae. Unlike the tradition of the “sports movie”, the narrative of the play does not closely follow the build-up to nor outcome of a particular big game, nor follow a season towards finals. It does not conclude with a soaring victory on the field nor a philosophical meditation on honour in defeat. Indeed, the play does not even seek to directly dramatise any actual on-field play.
Instead, we see only the one squad as they train, warm up, debrief and psych themselves up, and all the conversations, gossip, bonding, and fights that take place in and around those moments. In fact, one could even say that the play itself does not really have an overarching narrative so much as a multitude of interweaving subplots and character threads. Despite the lack of a main story per se, the result is greater than the sum of its parts, and as such the “story” we see is that of their companionship, their discord and unity as a side, and the dynamics of being a team.
Directed wonderfully by Jessica Arthur, the action takes place on an astroturfed stage with floor-to-ceiling goalie nets protecting the audience from any potentially errant balls. While there may not be any matches taking place onstage, this is a fiercely action-packed production which must have required almost as much physical training as rehearsal to prepare for it. To be able to not just say but perform lines in character while also concentrating on passing balls, let alone never getting out of breath while speaking amidst an almost constant series of deep squats, stretches and running is quite astonishing.
Aside from this impressive athletic prowess, the actual acting is a real treat. A terrific cast of nine young actresses work together and bounce their dramatic dialogue back and forth in a deft an ensemble as are their fictional counterparts a nimble soccer team.
Unconventional and captivating, this is a piece of youth-oriented theatre that is vital and alive, and an excellent platform for female-centric stories and talent outside of the conventional dramatic box. Highly recommended.
Red Line Productions presents
by Sarah DeLappe
Director Jessica Arthur
Venue: The Old Fitz Theatre | 129 Dowling Street (Cnr of Cathedral St), Woolloomooloo NSW
Dates: 14 March - 14 April 2018
Tickets: $33 – $55