Set over a few Saturdays of the team the Wolves’ indoor soccer (futsal) games, The Wolves depicts the overlapping and unpredictable lives of the nine under-17s players while they warm up before games. The girls gossip, make plans, discuss homework and global events, and reveal more and more of themselves to each other before an accident rewrites the tone of the rest of their lives.
The nostalgia is strong with this one! I very vividly remember my days of growing up with my soccer team and reconvening every season to the stench of sweat, synthetic jerseys, and orange slices. Maya Keys did a commendable job in such a tiny performance space of accurately recreating the feeling of the soccer field with astro-terf, an abundance of soccer balls, and towering nets. The use of the nets to delineate the audience from the stage makes sense practically to protect the audience from rogue kicks but also made each side claustrophobic, inconsistent from the drive of the action. The nets seem the most effective solution to a problem of space and layout, but it’s also worth noting the draw-backs of constructing even a transparent wall between actors and audience.
That being said, the construction of the script with more of an ensemble cast, lacking any key main characters, puts the audience in an unusually removed position watching the team warm up. Without a nominated character to follow and a specific perspective to “see” through, the audience becomes voyeuristic and distanced from the emotions and motivations of the characters. While this overlapping of story lines, conversation, and interest keeps the script realistic from the point of view of the team members, where every character is their own protagonist, it also serves to dilute the intensity of each girl’s reality. And they cover some pretty harrowing stories of disordered eating, cancer, and abortion that all could have constituted a play on their own. I suppose there’s a nice affirmation for your teenage self that everyone has a “problem”; nobody is “normal” and everyone has a weird backstory, but portraying that through a large ensemble cast can weaken the larger story arc of the play.
This cast is a really strong group that brought integrity to each of their characters and a fluidity and ease to their teammate relationships. The overlapping and simultaneous conversations work well in this production and have clearly benefited from an attention to detail. This play is built on subtly in expression and body language that runs rife through teenage interactions and director Jessica Arthur gave this aspect of the production the consideration it deserved. I don’t know if I’ll ever get tired of hearing women and girls openly discussing menstruation on stage, especially when they find some (maybe misplaced) power in it. While the dialogue is very rarely light, the actors give the subject matter a brightness and ease that keeps the show from sliding into vapidness.
Like most contemporary plays written about teenagers (the Sydney University Dramatic Society just closed Punk Rock by Simon Stephens; a play about a school shooter), The Wolves sets the stakes very high: literally life and death. While I can understand the compulsion, adolescence begs everything to a heightened degree, I can’t help but feel it’s a shame to limit the scope of representations of this life stage to recycled plot extremes. Where this script allows so much subtly and nuance in explorations of sexuality, loyalty, fear, love, and friendship, to set the climax at such a high as an accidental death, it undermines the power and sincerity of all that flowed before. Adolescence is a tumultuous time but so are your 20s-30s, middle age, and old age, and I see far fewer representations of those age groups revolving their interrogations around death. In future, I want to see adolescence being dealt a gentler hand.
The Wolves is running at the Old Fitz Theatre from March 14th – April 14th.