Review: OSU Theatre Presents Riveting The Wolves
The OSU Department of Theatre presents Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer-finalist The Wolves in a raw, stripped-down, and switchblade-sharp production directed by Elizabeth Wellman, opening this weekend.
The Wolves follows the eponymous soccer team, part of a U17 girls’ indoor league for the latter half of their season. Each scene takes place before or after a week’s game. The play understands that life happens between the dramatic, explosive moments. Its characters are at the age that sinks in and they begin to emerge from their chrysalises.
Wellman and her cast use the visual impact of the team falling into patterns and exercises to drive home how much of life, purpose and the hope of ever finding your success or nurturing talent comes down to time, repetition, and learning to work with others. All in a way I’ve never witnessed in a play before. The play sets a dark look at men and boys in their lives against an intricate, spider-web passing drill. Half of a scene uses an almost cartoonish set-piece of various running drills, “high knees” and “butt kicks,” off and back on the set.
This dazzling, but never too virtuosic, physicality, helps set the tone for DeLappe’s sense of naturalism with its contrast turned up so high it reveals the real strangeness of the human heart. Every tricky overlapping dialogue or whiplash switch between narrative devices, the cast, to a person, returns with finesse and spins designed to make the most of the text’s surprises.
Those surprises and delights are landmines throughout the 90 minute runtime, with nothing wasted but plenty of breathing room. The cast smartly embodies the ensemble energy that makes their team undefeated but also the frissons and fissures inherent to any group of 17-year-olds. An antic and funny riff on the Khmer Rouge led by #11 (Betsy Huggins), that turns into a vital discussion on ethical complexity, is a highlight.
Olivia Sawatzki’s new kid in town, #46, strikes the perfect balance of wanting to fit in where the character’s strangeness isn’t “cute” and her skills avoid sitcom ugly duckling tropes. As things she said earlier come back as plot points, the blood of every audience member who identified with the larger group that ignored the “weirdo” until that person is “useful,” should chill. That performance peaks in a jaw-dropping breakdown and the reckoning after.
Vayda Good’s wrenching #7 – especially in moments where she and Mehek Sheikh’s #14 play the foil to one another – is impossible to ignore, a sandpaper performance that takes grime off even the most jaded eyes. Cindy Tran Nguyen’s #25, the captain, balances that grown-up-too-fast adult-proxy with lightness and hope.
Those are highlights that stood out to me but there isn’t a bad performance or a bum note struck throughout this riveting gut-punch of The Wolves. Elizabeth Wellman and her cast have given us an ideal production of one of the most important plays of the last five years
The Wolves runs through February 24 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 3:00 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit theatre.osu.edu/events/wolves.