Capital Stage kicks off season with The Wolves, a radical look at ingroups, outgroups and the human condition

The Wolves recite their pregame chant. [Image by Charr Crail.]

Pol Pot and tampons.

Civil liberties. Episcopalians. Empathy for history’s monsters.

What else would nine teenage girls discuss while stretching before their indoor soccer match against the Hornets?

Walking into Capital Stage’s season opener, The Wolves, the viewer can tell something special is about to go down. A 2017 Pulitzer Prize nominee, the script for this play was penned by playwright Sarah DeLappe at 24.

It brings a cast of nine young women — and not one damn man —to the sideline of an astroturf indoor soccer pitch as they prepare for their games over the course of a season.

Try and keep up, dear viewer, because there is nearly too much to take in at the outset. The athletes prep in unison, stretching in circular formation while carrying out concurrent conversations: One over the 1970’s atrocities committed by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, and the other, a round of playful, graphic banter over playing a match with a tampon in.

            what if it ran down and like
  I never said we should take our liberties for granted
            stained the ball
  you did
  I didn’t
            that would be like so epic
  I would never say that
            like so scary for the other team

No one has a name. Just the number on her jersey. They match in uniform and movement, building rapport as they size up their opponents. An immediate nod to the young men in classic war films as they prepare for battle.

The Wolves size up their opponents. [Photo by Charr Crail]

But the dialogue fast brings out something larger. The notion that, on one hand, this may be a group of privileged, suburban American teens, but it is also a layered, evolving universe of its own. One in which understanding is gained in one moment, trust shattered in another. A single teammate might be silently harmed by a cavalier joke — though the other eight on the pitch may not catch it.

All the while a seasonal cold makes its rounds among the players.

What a precarious time, our teens. What stress, becoming who we will be our whole lives. DeLappe opens the script with a classic Gertrude Stein quote: “We are always the same age inside.”

This play does something spectacular, almost impossible, in creating not one, not two, but nine characters that are complex and multidimensional, each exhibiting growth as the soccer season progresses. Director Nancy Carlin gets a nod for breathing such life into 90 minutes.

This production makes serious use of Cap Stage’s intimate set. The movement, exciting and dynamic. Each young woman’s acting is even more remarkable when considering the confounding, scattershot dialogue and choreographed movements she must perform, all while making it appear natural and seamless.

Now, ask yourself something: For whom will you fight? Who are you willing to battle? Why?

Are we not all, ultimately, just barely navigating this high stakes universe, finding humanity and understanding in one moment and taking up arms in the next? Is not our entire existence — what’s the word? — ethically complicated?

As the season nears its end, the players must make increasingly adult decisions. College recruiters. Relationships. Choices that will, in the end, sculpt the rest of their lives.

The Wolves stretch and talk before a game. [Photo by Charr Crail]

The Wolves is unlike any play I have experienced in my young life. And it is perhaps a disservice to the depth and nuance of the work of all the women involved to say that its very existence is radical. But it is. And it delivers. And it makes me excited for the future of American theatre.

The Wolves plays through September 30 at Capital Stage in midtown Sacramento. Tickets can be purchased on the theatre company’s website.


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Dave Kempa
Editor at VOICES: River City
Dave Kempa is the founder and editor of VOICES: River City.