Theatre Review: ‘The Wolves’ at Horizon Theatre

Horizon Theatre is presenting Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer finalist play “The Wolves,” directed by Heidi Cline McKerley, running through March 3 at their Little Five Points playhouse.

It’s a whirling dervish of a play, set in an indoor soccer playing facility on a green field of AstroTurf. There are several scenes, each depicting nine teenage girls who comprise the Wolves, a soccer team, warming up before a game each week. Once the action begins, it’s like being on a roller coaster that you were reluctant to ride, but once in motion, you’re committed for 90 minutes. There’s no getting off, and you won’t want to.

There’s a Biblical verse that begins, “Let no man despise thy youth,” and you would be wise to heed the admonition. The power, vitality, and emotional commitment these high school girls display are hypnotic. In real life, the performers are college age or older (I know because I read the credits in the program), but through the magic of live theatre and the willing suspension of disbelief, these young women are girls, around 15 to 18-years-old.

And they’re growing up at warp speed, right in front of you. The first 15 minutes are dizzying, because the audience is accepting the peculiar syntax of the situation: nine girls, with only their individual numbers on their jerseys—no names, not even in the program. It’s #2 or #14 and so on. The play, to me, is a metaphor for the uncensored trial by fire transition each girl is making from youth to adulthood, in real time, as you watch.

There’s lots of overlapping dialogue; each actor must be razor sharp with the script, and these actors are. The topics they unabashedly discuss range from the Khmer Rouge and genocide to boyfriends, Harry Potter, abortion, anxiety, team spirit, the new girl, personal hygiene, and death. Ms. DeLappe realizes that when young people of the same sex get together, there can be an almost reckless freedom of expression. The same would be true, I suppose, if the team were all male, but there are no males in sight. In fact, every person on the production team from the soccer choreographer (Susan Stoffle) to the scenic designers (Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay) to the lighting designer (Mary Parker) is female.

“The Wolves” moves carefully and subtly to an emotional climax, but I cannot offer any details. It’s almost impossible to convey the texture, toughness, and tenderness of this visceral work with words. This unique drama demands to be seen. There are moments where the warm-ups and banter get a bit repetitive, but not for long, as the arc of the play builds.

The actors are first-rate; look for them on other stages and in TV and film. They are Katie Causey, Anna Williford, Rebeca Robles, Ebony Jerry, Michelle Pokopac, Shelby Folks, Shannon McCarren, Jasmine Thomas, and Erika Miranda. These are the soccer players. The sole “adult” in the work is Megan Cramer, a soccer mom who appears near the end.

In an ensemble piece like “The Wolves,” flow and pacing are all-important, and here we salute Ms. McKerley for her astute direction. When this play appeared Off Broadway in 2016, it was a New York Times Critic’s Pick, denoting unusual excellence in the theatre. The current Atlanta production has polish, sparkle, and real pathos. I wouldn’t miss it.

For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.

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