McCarter Theatre’s all-female production of “The Wolves,” which follows a girls’ high-school soccer team as they embark on their winter club season, hums with the sounds of teenage girldom. Opening immediately upon a scene of intense chatter, the play focuses primarily on the liminal spaces of the sport, so to speak — the time just before games and practices; stretching circles and passing drills; shoelace tying and hair doing.
Written by Sarah Delappe and directed by McCarter Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen, “The Wolves” — at times — has more musical qualities than narrative ones. Various voices merge together in constant conversations, blending and floating into melodies and songs. Conversations among players are stacked and stacked again, layered on top of each other. Free from the constraints of high school hand-raising or speaking in turn, there is rarely a moment in which one line is isolated; for these girls, it is clear early on that this time together is a release from their otherwise structured lives.
As an audience member, there is this notion that you must pick and choose which conversation to zero in on at any given moment. In many ways, it is in this auditory choice that favorite characters emerge and grow — perhaps you find yourself tending towards one player’s conversations or movements, doing the work to isolate lines yourself.
Maria Habeeb, who played #46, a new girl who has just recently joined the team, commented on the experience of maintaining these various conversations: “On the page, it's written in columns. So for example, I'm seeing one column that's talking about the Cambodian genocide. And then there's the column that's talking about your period and tampons.”
The actors often get cues from conversations they are not a part of.
“What is really fun about this play is that you actually have to passively listen to another conversation while actively listening to your conversation so that you don't miss your line. And that was very, very difficult,” said Katie Griffith, who plays #2.
Claire Pinciaro ’13, the current Assistant Dean and Director of Student Life in Yeh College and former Princeton soccer alum, said the play “just reminded me of how special it is to be able to come together regularly, whether it be every day, every afternoon, to be able to have the same group of people and to be able reflect on your day, sometimes in really deep ways sometimes and sometimes in kind of trivial and funny ways.”
Pinciaro gave the opening remarks at an ODUS-hosted event in conjunction with the Department of Athletics and McCarter Theatre.
In portraying these various reflections, Delappe seems to be saying it is integral to the narrative that these conversations take place at once — that talk of geopolitical states and menstrual products is simultaneous, swirling together to create one large “cacophony,” as the actors dubbed these layered conversations.
It is here that Delappe begins to craft a holistic idea of what exactly it means to be a teenage girl — to move from conversations of pregnancy to yurts to high school dances with ease and expertise, to speak on all topics with an earnestness and uncertainty, to house intense thoughts and passions about justice and wrongdoing within the pre-established structures of suburbia.
Soccer itself often serves to act as a pre-established structure, serving as a vessel to represent broader concerns about a post-high school future. Many of the girls in the play are looking to be recruited for college, which results in various tensions within the team.
Rasmussen said, “To some degree, you are competing against your own teammates for, you know, who’s going to that next level opportunity or attention. I think that soccer is a very potent container for this play.”
In this sense, these high school juniors are forced to look into the future, to consider where they may want to spend their next four years — often without yet knowing fully who they are.
To get a sense of this struggle, as well as some basic soccer knowledge, cast members of “The Wolves” attended both a local Princeton high school soccer practice and a Princeton varsity women’s practice. Heather Driscoll, a local soccer expert who formerly coached at the college level, acted as their soccer consultant of sorts, facilitating these visits and helping the players develop their soccer skills.
Both Habeeb and Griffith compared the experience of attending a high school practice and then a college one.
Griffith said, “It was very informative regarding physicality and how that changes between high school and college.” At the high school practice, they described how “no one [was] ever standing on two feet equally. Everybody [was] sitting on some sort of hip. Their hands [were] never still there. [They were] not ever still. It [was] very different from the Princeton women’s soccer team. When they talk[ed] to us, [they were] very much standing on two feet.”
In attending these practices, the cast members gained an understanding of the fraughtness that so often comes hand in hand in high school sports. By the time players reach the collegiate level, these athletes have gained a certain confidence and sense of self — they are quite literally standing on their own two feet. “The Wolves,” in many ways, seems to aim to depict this transition from adolescence to adulthood — to highlight the selves that form under the lights and on the field.
Despite the play’s firm focus on a single generation, there is a certain universality that emerges — against all odds — in DeLappe’s depiction of this singular group of teenage girls.
The epigraph of the Wolves, at least, is insistent on its own globalness. DeLappe leans on the words of Gertrude Stein to write, “We are always the same age inside.”
But there is an overwhelming notion that it is at this very moment where a self is most likely to form — on this field, under this astrodome, among these girls. Teammates, friends, acquaintances, partners in passing and banter and teenagehood, brought together seemingly under the sole guise of sport. DeLappe seems insistent upon the fact that teenagedom in general is a place ripe for self-discovery, self-actualization, self-conception.
As Katharine Powell, who plays the Soccer Mom — the one adult character who delivers a long, isolated monologue towards the end of the play — states, “there’s the kid inside of all of us, and there's the teenager inside of all of us. And, and I think [“The Wolves”] really speaks to what's underneath.”
“The Wolves” — subtly and then all at once — depicts how teenagers come into their own. In a chaotic collision of sports and grief and intense anxieties, viewers watch as these soccer players become who they will be. In many ways, the play is a true Bildungsroman — we watch as the members of the Wolves grow up before our own eyes.
Rasmussen thinks that “multiple generations of multiple gender identities can see themselves in [“The Wolves”]. And I think that's just something that comes with beautifully specific writing. There’s something that speaks across time and any lived experience.”
By the end of the play, the players of the Wolves — at first a nameless mass of numbers and buzzing conversations — become individuals. They at once become distinguishable to themselves and the onlooking audience: “The incredible arc of this play is that by the end we see these people very clearly in their own very specific humanity. And I think we also see them change during a week of soccer practice over one winter in 2016. And they’re not the same people,” said Rasmussen.
They’re not the same people, and after watching the performance neither are we, as audience members. In McCarter Theatre’s production of “The Wolves,” you are reminded of who you once were, of who you are right now, of who you dream to be. We are all 16 again, wavering but determined, desperate for identities, navigating notions of grief and hope and teenagedom — unknowingly bound to be “always the same age inside.”
“The Wolves” runs at McCarter Theatre Center until Oct. 16.
Clara McWeeny is a Senior Writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on social media @claramcweeny.