Thursday, October 19, 2017

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 38, A Review: "The Wolves" (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

By James V. Ruocco

The story of "The Wolves" is relatively simple.
Nine high school girls.....all different types, shapes and indoor soccer.
They gossip. They laugh. They cry. They fight. They hover. They stare. They attack. They warm up. They all talk at once.
They say words like "fuck," "bitch," and "cunt."
They talk about periods, boys, sex, allergies, prejudice, world travel, teachers, coaches, hangovers, menstruation, soccer, eating disorders, anxiety, Twitter, Harry Potter, Khmer Rouge and 101 other topics.
Sometimes, their words overlap. Sometimes, their words are inaudible. Sometimes, their words are mean and hurtful. Sometimes, their words are kind and caring.
But you listen, just the same.
And never once, do you turn away.
That's easy.
"The Wolves " is an unmissable piece of important theatre.
It intrigues. It inspires. It excites. It energizes. It shames. It baffles. It shocks. It surprises. It changes course. It explodes. It exposes. It delights. It keeps you guessing. It also cries reality.

The conversations, of course, are truthful, wise and ever-changing. But whatever the topic is, "The Wolves" draws you in completely and keeps you riveted as these nine girls learn more and more about each other and make the most of the on-stage action, which, finds then engaging in some pretty topical wordplay. Or, at the same time, stretching, exercising or kicking the soccer ball around on the smart, bright green Astroturf setting during their pregame practices.

Sarah DeLappe's play script tosses up some pretty wonderful comic and dramatic moments for all nine of her central characters. And despite the sameness of their ages and enthusiastic athleticism, no two characters are alike which makes it relatively easy for the audience to differentiate who's who, who's front and center, who's in the background and who is going to engage in the obvious clash or pitfall when the ball actually drops. And believe me, it does.

In the very capable hands of director Eric Ort, DeLappe's exhilarating play unfolds beautifully with its many set ups, introductions, character developments and interplay, both verbal and physical.  It only runs 90 minutes, but not a moment is wasted. Everything that happens is graced with appropriate wit, style, brashness, tension, warmth, boldness and surprise. The story itself is focused, poignantly articulated and brilliantly paced by Ort. It is presented with such love and care, it's impossible not to be moved or affected by everything that happens in "The Wolves." Then again, that's the point. Regardless of one's background, social status or knowledge of sports, we each take something away from this very real, very raw and very truthful production.

Ort doesn't stop there. Undeniably, DeLappe's dialogue is something special and extremely bold in both its hilarity and heartbreak. The trick, of course, is to always know where to put the focus, how to build it, shape it and thrust it stage center without every missing a single beat. Hard, yes. Complicated, yes. Crazy, yes. Wild, yes. But Ort makes it all look effortless. 

As director, he gets inside the hearts and minds of every single one of the female characters on stage. In turn, their quirks, oddities, skills, weaknesses, rants, raves, mind games, changeability, manipulations, tears, outbursts and unexpected moments of humanity fascinate, cajole, stir and excite. Even when there is no dialogue or someone is lost in thought or just standing there observing, Ort always knows what communicative buttons to push. And, then some.

Every member of the cast works splendidly together as a team, in groups of three and four or during that anticipated, character-building solo moment that every on-stage actress awaits, relishes and indulges. They are Emily Murphy, Shannon Keegan, Carolyn Cutillo, Caitlin Zoz, Claire Saunders, Olivia Hoffman, Karla Gallegos, Rachel Caplan and Dea Julien.

All nine have exceptional stage presence, personality and stamina. They understand girlhood, its rivalries, complications and angst completely without any hint of calculation. They are totally in sync with Ort's astonishing, complicated athletic staging. They also are privy to the mechanics of sports world academia, from its challenges and perks to how being on top of the game can open doors to one's future.

"The Wolves" is a propulsive production that is theatrically compelling, marvelously human and knockabout cheeky. It not only jumpstarts TheaterWorks 2017-2018 season, but reflects the theater's on-going commitment to staging important, powerful works that command your attention and demand to be seen.

"The Wolves" is being staged at TheaterWorks (233 Pearl St., Hartford, CT.), now through November 10.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 527-7838.


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