The Hippodrome Theatre begins its 46th season this week with an acclaimed coming-of-age play from Sarah DeLappe that gets up close and personal with a girls soccer team.
On the eve of another football season in this sports-crazed college town, it’s no wonder the Hippodrome Theatre is opening its own mainstage season with a production about nine teenage girls on a soccer team.
But if you think that Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves is only about soccer — or sports — you’d be mistaken.
“People ask me ‘Is [the play] about soccer?'” said actor Ariel Reich, who plays No. 14 for the Wolves. “It’s told through the premise of soccer, but that’s not actually what it’s about.”
More to the point, The Wolves is a 90-minute glimpse into the minds, hearts and souls of nine girls on the cusp of womanhood. It’s also a glimpse of modern suburbia, where idealism still tends to trump realism.
“The Wolves takes us on a journey as we peek into the world of young girls and their dedication and discipline and lust for winning,” said Lauren Warhol Caldwell, the Hippodrome’s artistic director who’s also directing the play.
“However, these girls are much like a pack of wolves. Wolves stick together in a pack. They might have violent conflicts within the pack, but the bond is unbreakable.”
The Wolves, a collaboration between the Hippodrome and the UF School of Theatre + Dance, opens Friday night at 8 and continues with seven performances a week through Sept. 23. There are discounted preview performances today and Thursday at 7 p.m.
The play was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Drama after debuting off-Broadway two years ago. DeLappe uses soccer to frame her story around the lives of teenage girls and to give them a voice — even if what they say is not always profound.
“I wanted to see a portrait of teenage girls as human beings, as complicated, nuanced, very idiosyncratic people who weren’t just girlfriends or sex objects or manic pixie dream girls but who were athletes and daughters and students and scholars and people who were trying actively to figure out who they were in this changing world around them,” DeLappe said in an interview.
The play opens with all nine team members going through pregame stretches and drills on bright green AstroTurf that serves as the minimal yet all-encompassing set. Overheard are conversations ranging from Cambodia genocide under the Khmer Rouge to the practical benefits of using tampons over pads.
The events of The Wolves chart five weeks in the life of the soccer team as it makes a run for a championship. All of the characters struggle in their own ways to fit in and to stand out. No topic is taboo. They bond over bags of orange slices and personal traumas.
Each player is lingering on the bridge between youth and adulthood.”
— Lauren Caldwell, director of “The Wolves”
“I think this age of young people is going through some tough times right now,” Warhol said. “Not all girls. Bullying, choice of gender preference, trans challenges as they face this dilemma and also just the tons of pressures that they face in what we call the world.”
Although the actors/players display adept soccer skills during the play, the driving force in The Wolves is the believable dialogue that takes place between the girls. Interestingly, the girls are identified only by their jersey numbers, as DeLappe had intended in keeping with the “team” theme.
Like teenage girls navigating the playing field in real life, each character in The Wolves is unique despite the uniformity required with a disciplined team. There’s the awkward girl who just wants to fit in, the insecure sidekick who just switched from glasses to contacts and the stoner whose older brother is a pot dealer. Another girl is sarcastic and arbitrarily uses the f-bomb. And then there’s the perfectionist with performance anxiety, the brainiac who grapples with questions of morality, the responsible team captain, and the innocent one with strong religious beliefs — and an eating disorder.
“Each player is lingering on the bridge between youth and adulthood,” Warhol said. “There is a very diverse level of where each of these young girls are on the bridge to finding their way. There are unexpected moments. Humor. Dead silence. This all culminates in a surprising ending.”
The ensemble cast includes a strong mix of experienced actors as well as current college students making their professional stage debuts. For example, MaRah Williams (No. 13), a second-year MFA candidate at UF, is making her Hipp mainstage premier and embracing every moment.
“I see somebody from my high school in every single one of these [characters] because they’re asking the questions and having the conversations that real 16-year-old girls do,” Williams said. “My character reminds me of my best friend so much, and she just so happens to play soccer.”
Reich, whose recent Hippodrome credits include Hand to God and All Girl Frankenstein, said The Wolves works because it doesn’t pander to the audience.
“It’s so unique and special to have a story that gives worth to young girls without it being about romance or sex or anything other than the fact that they’re strong women that have bonded together,” she said. “I feel super lucky to be telling the story.”
Isabella Werber (No. 25), a Florida State graduate, said The Wolves can’t function unless every single girl works together and communicates with each other.
“It’s empowering to think of the all-female cast as a team rather than just individualized roles, because there’s not really a protagonist or antagonist in this show,” she said. “We work together just like a normal soccer team would work together.”
The cast also features Suzy Weller (No. 46), Jordan Sison (No. 00), Gloria Halsell (No. 11), Emma McAvoy (No. 8), Melanie Sholl (No. 2) and Marissa Toogood (No. 7). The Hippodrome’s Stephanie Lynge is the only non-player in the cast.
Sholl, a recent graduate of the BFA Acting program at UF, is the only cast member with extensive soccer-playing experience.
“I had to work just as hard because it’s very different transferring those skills to the stage and having to keep the play going while also learning all this footwork and drills and exercises,” she said. “It is a lot of fun.”
Toogood, a member of the Hippodrome Acting Company, said The Wolves is a story that needs to be told.
“There are so many topics inside of this show that I couldn’t possibly tell you which one is more important,” she said. “It’s not necessarily how you feel about [the topic] but the fact that we’re talking about it and creating a conversation.”
Perhaps Reich summed it up The Wolves best:
“This play is a perfect example of the magic of theater, which to me is the ability to ignite and invoke change and to start a conversation because there are certain things that are really taboo to talk about or really uncomfortable to talk about, but if you put it onstage and talk about it through story, that opens up an avenue for conversation and understanding.”
— Noel Leroux
25 SE 2nd Place
Gainesville, FL 32601
Box office: 352.375.4477
Seven performances a week through Sept. 23 (Tuesday 7 p.m., Wednesday 7 p.m., Thursday 7 p.m., Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and Sunday 2 p.m.).
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