Own Goals win the game
Pacific Theatre kicks off season with teen girls' soccer drama "The Wolves"
Attentive readers of this site might have surmised by now that I am not a teenage girl athlete; that I am in fact old and male and none too sporty.
So the vernacular of a teen women’s soccer team – the gossip and football talk, the trophy dreams and put-downs, the slang, pop-culture in-jokes and fashion memes – would not loom large in my everyday vocabulary.
And it’s that much harder to follow when the 10 young starlets of Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer-nominated ensemble piece The Wolves continually cross-talk, treading on each other’s lines for an uninterrupted 100+ minutes without intermission.
They pick up and drop threads of dialogue in mid-stream, all the while prancing about the bare Astroturf of the unadorned stage in a ceaseless relay of rhythmic warm-up exercises – stretches and sprints and round-robin passes. Just watching them from the steeply ranked tiers of Pacific Theatre’s arena layout, it’s enough to tucker out an sluggish codger like me.
But precisely because of my remoteness from the teenage soccer demographic, whether on the field or in the bleachers, I can attest that DeLappe’s script, director Jamie King’s interpretation and Vancouver’s own With a Spoon Theatre production pack a kick that far transcends the particulars of their narrative context.
The fast-paced show can be, by turns, funny or tense or tear jerking with hardly a pause to catch breath. But amidst all the mercurial mood shifts, diffuse action and interweaving subplots, we catch inklings of powerful, universal overtones.
The Wolves presents variations on the coming-of-age theme, both at the group and the individual levels. We meet these players as high school juniors or seniors – pettish, wacky, sometimes thoughtless, angsty or casually cruel. But they retain a certain gamine charm, typified by such childish antics as posing for their group selfie with orange peel grins.
Over the five-month course of the play (all of which we only get to witness through practice drills on their indoor soccer pitch) we watch them each broach the brink of adulthood – a little sadder, perhaps, but calmer, kinder and maybe even marginally wiser.
In the process they achieve a new solidarity, both as women and as teammates. They morph from a catty herd of lone-stalking felidae into a pack-hunting team of mutually supportive canidae – Wolves, in fact, as expressed in their squad name and group cheer.
In line with DeLappe’s avowedly “orchestral” dramaturgy, the play has no single protagonist. In fact we never even get to know any of the characters by name; only by the numbers on their uniform jerseys. But, through the intercut snippets of dialogue, we gradually come to learn a bit about each of them.
The Wolves are not a proprietary team of any particular school; rather they’re recruited among all the teens in a prototypical Midwest suburb. So the line-up straddles tacit class boundaries. There are a couple of preppies from a tony Catholic academy: profane and sexually precocious #7 (Danielle Klaudt) and her uneasily imitative sidekick #14 (Montserat Videla).
From the “other side of the tracks,” there’s the group clown, #13 (Ali Watson), whose drug-dealing brother is under court-mandated observation by the psychotherapist parent of the team’s budding intellectual, #11 (Jalen Saip).
Churchy, naïve and covertly bulemic #25 (Anjela Magpantay on opening night) empathically reaches out to strangers near and far. Childlike #8 (Georgia Beaty) deploys a more studied innocence, retreating into strategic juvenilia to shy away from the challenges of immanent adulthood.
Two mainstays of the team each suffer stresses of a different sort. Goalie #00 (Kim Larsen) gets such performance anxiety that she has to rush off to the Port-a-Potty before each game. The Wolves’ captain, #25 (Shona Struthers), tries to curb the group’s internecine flare-ups with inspirational bromides she learned from her soccer coach Dad. At the same time, she struggles to reconcile her straight-arrow self-image with her budding attraction to a female classmate.
And then there’s #46 (Paige Louter), a home-schooled, yurt-dwelling new-girl-in-town. Clueless about suburban social graces and excluded from any sub-cliques, she’s relegated to the bench – at least until she’s called in to substitute when team’s designated striker, sassy #7, gets sidelined by an injury.
That’s when the shy outlier reveals a dazzling repertoire of soccer skills she’d picked up in sandlot games all over the world while globetrotting in the wake of her hippie Mom, an itinerant freelance travel writer.
The townies on the squad, galvanized by their sudden winning streak, open up a little more to their strength in diversity. And #46, perhaps for the first time in her life, starts to feel part of a community. Even #7, the erstwhile Alpha Cat, overcomes her envy and becomes a team booster.
The momentum judders to a halt, though, when an offstage car crash abruptly snuffs one of the women out of the line up. The surviving Wolves are too shocked even to come to practice. They forfeit a string of games by default.
But then, one-by-one, they find themselves irresistibly drawn back to the soccer pitch to process their grief with each other – the only sisters they can count on to fully share it. And, without even planning it, they find they have a full-team compliment of players just in time for a surprise visit by the mother (Tanja Dixon-Warren) of their dead teammate.
As she wraps up her heartbroken pep talk, the distraught Soccer Mom recalls a forgotten bag of orange slices she’d left in the car for one more group selfie. But, before she can make it back from the parking lot, the women are already huddled together for a resounding Wolf Howl cheer.
At this point I don’t think there was a dry eye on the pitch or in the bleachers.