A pack of motivated, clever and terrifying creatures have made their home at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, and they are only going to be there until Jan. 7. The titular indoor soccer team of Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves may not be the fanged and furred predators of the forest, but they are forces of nature in their own right, turning the thrust stage of the Mitzi E. Newhouse into what is unmistakably their own territory.
After a brief run at the Duke on 42nd Street, the Pulitzer-nominated play has been revived at Lincoln Center with a vivacity rarely afforded to works with such specific subject matters. Anyone could easily imagine that the stories meant to be told through the eyes of a girls soccer team would be, at the very least, a little unrelatable. They would be incredibly wrong to think so. The girls of the ensemble make up the Wolves, a team ready for the Nationals, and eager to hear rumors of talent scouts.
The Wolves prove themselves as truly a collective, even when they held simultaneous conversations about the Khmer Rouge, children trapped in cages or whether or not one of them needed a pad because their period was just not leaving them alone.
DeLappe’s casual, conversational writing makes the dialogue feel less like tropes in a blender and more like the genuine insights of teenage girls, while the adults are out making the rules and figuring out who is up to being coach this time around. Once the audience hears the Wolves announce who they like best, it is hard not to nod in agreement when they say they do not want the coach who “made us do scrimmage in our sports bras.”
The Wolves, only referred to by their numbers for a majority of the play, especially by each other, are clearly parts of a singular, much more powerful whole. When no one else is around, though, each girl becomes far more than her number. While the concept of putting a magnifying lens on the parts of a whole is not new, DeLappe’s tight writing allows for the insight to be less of a case study and more of a fly-on-the-wall situation.
The little things that set them apart become fascinating, even if perhaps these problems have been laid out before in soap operas and cheap television series about the lives of adolescents. DeLappe clearly understands that sometimes the things viewers might see as dramatic do in fact happen to people.
The soccer team would be nothing without the direction of Lila Neugebauer, whose spot-on staging makes the maneuvers these girls pull off not only believable, but also a joy to watch. The sheer precision makes this endeavor feel less like an exercise in scenario-based storytelling, and more of a genuine act of telling a story within the world DeLappe has chosen to look into.
The production team also took fascinating measures to create the world of The Wolves. Laura Jellinek, whose puzzle-piece sets sometimes feel like interdimensional doors, has encroached the stage of the Mitzi Newhouse with turf — even the back wall of the stage. It feels almost like some sort of otherworldly forest where the Wolves reside, practicing high-knees and butt kicks in preparation for their next battle. Right outside that forest, though, is a world of college-aged boyfriends, port-a-potties and therapists.
Ásta Bennie Hostetter, responsible for costume design, created a slick battle uniform for the Wolves that makes any changes to and from those uniforms an almost holy moment.
Lap Chi Chu’s lighting, with its signature powerful eruption of bold radiance, emanates an environment that reminds the audience of just how competitive, and how grueling, being an athlete can be. This is put to best effect in a silent scene starring only #00, played by Lizzy Jutila, whose own silence proves to be a barrier for something much heavier within. It is hard not to jump when #00 finally makes her exit after these moments.
Overall, The Wolves is something of an out-of-the-way, yet rewarding, revival for Lincoln Center. Such quick resurrections of shows like The Wolves, which opened and closed in 2016 at the Duke on 42nd Street, could easily be cash-grabs and filler material for a slow season.
The play proudly stands rightly on its own on a new stage that seems better suited for the story DeLappe and Neugebauer want to tell. It pulls off being a lens without necessarily feeling like any kind of lens. If anything, the audience may as well be sitting on the bleachers or just passing by the quad where the Wolves do their stretches and argue strategy, only to stop and briefly listen to something bursting from young voices.