“Maybe we shouldn’t use the B-word?”
The ways a group of teenage girls treat each other is often at the forefront of The Wolves. In the Lyric Stage production of Sarah DeLappe’s one-act play about a girl’s indoor soccer team, they often argue about what they like and don’t like being called—but this isn’t an “issue” play, or one that suffocates you with Big Lessons about civility or feminism. No, after 90 minutes with the most hospitable wolfpack imaginable, what stands out aren’t the discussion topics that get kicked around and punted back, but the drive that keeps these girls together.
Within a safety-netted patch of AstroTurf, the nine girls (and one Soccer Mom) who make up the winning ensemble do their exhausting warm-up rituals throughout their junior year season. Limbs outstretched and kneepads secured, they run around doing buttkicks while debating the morality of the Khmer Rouge’s regime, the hotness of their stepdads, and the practical intersection between religion and tampons.
The girls are in no short supply for conversation, and the play allows their individual personalities to come through in a way that is almost shockingly naturalistic. Some have known each other their whole lives, others are newer additions to the team, and one, played with heartbreaking sincerity by Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, has just moved into the country and—rumor has it—takes three different buses to practice. With an outsider’s grimace affixed to her face, yet an undeniable talent for “football,” she makes a solid case for the quietest performances having the strongest of impacts.
To single out Barnett-Mulligan is a bit unfair, since The Wolves is an ensemble piece through and through. And, God, what an ensemble; each actor creates such a vivid personality amidst the cacophony of the overlapping dialogue, it’s easy to let time pass by and enjoy these girls’ company for their messy, hilarious camaraderie. DeLappe’s dialogue, laden with the “likes” and “ums” teenagers are prone to overuse, is not often the easiest to make seem real, and yet the cast slips so easily into their roles, it’s hard not to, like, forget about diction as they tirelessly do laps around the audience.
What little story there is happens only during the play’s final moments, and while it certainly kicks the emotions into higher gear, it seems a bit forced after an hour of conversational sport. Only then does it feel like a play occurring and, by that point, director A. Nora Long has let the characters breathe and exist in a way that doesn’t need much obvious plotting. The suddenness of the drama, which has, until now, been largely absent as the play checks in on the team throughout various warm-ups, shows an otherwise invisible author’s hand coming in for a final word.
But, really, this is the girls’ time, and the ensemble takes the material and runs, involving us in the concerns, big and small, of a team of dedicated young athletes with the relaxed authenticity of a Richard Linklater film. The Wolves avoids easy “ragtag team” trappings by sidestepping the usual archetypes and showing us the girls’ distinct selves as dynamic, lived-in, and natural.
THE WOLVES. THROUGH 2.3 AT THE LYRIC STAGE. 140 CLARENDON ST., BOSTON. LYRICSTAGE.COM