The Wolves, which runs April 6-23 at Santa Barbara City College’s Jurkowitz Theatre, puts its all-female cast to work in the service of an intriguing premise. The Wolves are an indoor soccer team for high-school-age women. The play portrays a series of six warm-up sessions before their weekly soccer games. All of the characters — except one, known only as “Soccer Mom” — are identified in the script by uniform number. The dialogue they speak while performing actual soccer warm-up drills overlaps frequently. At times, the audience must choose which of the different conversations to follow, and those choices often depend on where one sits in the theater.
Director Sara Rademacher, an alum of the UCSB Dramatic Arts program with an MFA in Theater Directing from Columbia, will be familiar to many Santa Barbara theater fans from her work as cofounder and former artistic director of the Elements Theatre Collective. She brings a great deal of experience working with non-traditional scripts to the project and touts the play’s omnidirectional approach as a core strength. “The first thing to know about The Wolves,” she told me, “is that it means something different for everyone who sees it.” This is not just because of the overlapping dialogue; it’s also because “each woman is a real individual.” When playwright Sarah DeLappe premiered the play in 2016, critics immediately recognized the degree to which the writing departed from previous attempts to capture the natural way teens talk.
The Wolves received a Pulitzer nomination and became one of the most-produced plays of the decade. Audiences responded enthusiastically to the realism of its dialogue and the nuanced account it gives of adolescence in contemporary America. In her preface to the play’s reader edition, DeLappe asks and then answers the most obvious question by saying, “Why soccer? Astroturf and American exceptionalism. It’s essential that these girls are playing indoor soccer… These American teenagers exist, quite literally, in a bubble.” Rademacher concurs in DeLappe’s analysis, offering her interpretation of the City Sports Dome where the play takes place.
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She sees the set, which replicates the sensation of being in a plastic sports dome facility, as a potent metaphor. “They are like baby birds in a nest,” Rademacher observed. “The big thing that happens happens outside.” SBCC Technical Director Ben Crop has been recording rehearsals and working with the sound to create an ambient echo chamber that reinforces this notion of living in a sphere sealed off from the outside world.
SBCC has flagged the production as one that “Contains Adult Language & Material,” which is true enough, but I hope it won’t keep teens and families from seeing the show. There’s nothing in it that wouldn’t pass muster on the Lifetime Channel, and it’s nowhere near as shocking as any average weeknight on basic cable. On the other hand, this is not to say that The Wolves is easy or complacent.
For Rademacher, the challenge has been to keep her cast open to the ambiguity of the play’s ending, which can be heartwarming or unsettling, depending on your viewpoint. Like the overlapping dialogue and the distracting feats of athleticism, the play’s denouement asks the audience to choose, and it doesn’t tell you how to decide or what to think. Let’s hope that many people will choose to see it and take the opportunity to think for themselves, outside the bubble.