Sarah Price, Isa Arciniegas, Natalie Joyce, and Angela Alise in The Wolves Credit: Liz Lauren

T
hey bust out onto the scene like champions, faster and larger than life,
feet flying, balls in the air, to Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls).” When
the colored lights stop strobing and the cheers of the crowd die away, nine
teenage girls in red uniforms stand on an Astroturf field in Middle
America. They pass a disjointed conversation among themselves as they put
themselves through a set routine of warm-ups and drills in unison, a single
slap of the hand as it grabs the foot for a quad stretch: They discuss
whether Khmer Rouge leaders should be jailed 40 years after the Cambodian
genocide, where Cambodia is, whether they have been to Cambodia, how to
pronounce “Khmer Rouge,” whether the girl who is an Episcopalian is a
bitch, whether it’s OK to use the word “bitch,” snake handling, and how to
use a tampon. “We should definitely not, like, take our liberties for
granted,” says one of them, smart and stupid like every teenager
everywhere.

The girls face each other in a circle nearly the entire length of the
Goodman’s production of Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer-nominated The Wolves. Seating is in the round, so the primary view from the
ground floor is their shiny red backsides as they stretch and lunge and
shake out their joints. Their faces are distant, their society insular—they
perform for no one but each other, but in sport as in the military,
hierarchy and a certain degree of pageantry are always on display. Number
46 (Erin O’Shea) is the new girl, plus she lives in a yurt—which the others
call a “yogurt”—so if she weren’t a prodigy at soccer, which she calls
“football,” she’d be sunk.

The American Youth Soccer Organization was founded in 1964 on several
principles, including “everyone plays” and “balanced teams.” US Youth Soccer
followed suit a decade later with the tagline “The game for all kids.” In
other words, soccer in our country claims to produce an equality we do not
yet share as a culture. The Wolves is a play for nine girls and a
woman, written by a woman, directed by a woman (Vanessa Stalling), on a set
designed by a woman (Collette Pollard). In that sense alone, it ought to be
cause for celebration.

However, the play itself is emphatically a play for and about adolescents
that seems modeled on mainstream teen sports flicks, never quite living up
to the pitch of its eye-popping opening number. The snatches of
conversations sketch out character types-the brainy one, the bossy leader,
the bad girl, the sidekick, and so on—but none is given the means to
develop, and the drama produced by a nasty twist of fate is contrived and
then left unexplored. As far as landmarks in feminist theater go, The Wolves is not quite a stepping stone.   v