Just to put it out there before going any further, the Echo Theater Company’s production of Sarah DeLappe’s play, The Wolves, is a terrific, thrilling, moving, exciting, amazing theatrical work, directed by Alana Dietze, and performed by nine young women at the top of their game. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, The Wolves is the intimate story of a teenage girls soccer team, told as they warm up and practice before matches. The girls chatter about girl things and relations in giddy, rude, nasty, overlapping pieces of dialogue as they perform exhausting, strenuous calisthenics in an indoor stadium prior to taking the field in competition. Some girls are brash, some get picked on, some have heated clashes over inconsequential things that loom larger than they should, and some have secrets, serious secrets. All the while, they return again and again to soccer drills like passing the ball, running (sometimes sideways), squat-thrusts, stretches, laps that run around out of sight in the auditorium and backstage. The girls own the stage until, near the end of the play, a soccer mom (Alison Martin) enters with some words and a bag of orange slices.
At first the chaos is over whelming, but soon the girls, who are identified by their jersey numbers, become distinct individuals. The captain, # 25 (Connor Kelly-Eiding), wrangles the girls, who respond in various ways, but always come back to the work at hand. They have been at the game since they were in single digits, and besides, they are aiming for a championship and the hope of landing soccer scholarships at a university. Short, slight, and distinctively Asian, #2 (Minzi), is prone to head injuries and wears protective headgear provided by a hovering mother. The goalie, #00 (Makeda Declet), big, strong, and silent, stands out in her goalie gear, and has pre-game anxiety. Later on, in a kind of physical soliloquy, she dispatches her demons in a grueling sequence of exercises performed at the very top of her speed.
Tall and self-possessed, #11 (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson) is smart as whip; #8 (Ellen Neary) has some anxiety issues; #13 (Jacqueline Besson), is a wit, who sometimes says things she shouldn’t. A girl of Armenian extraction, #14 (Donna Zadeh), is friends with the competitive striker, #7 (Katherine Cronyn), a girl of some experience, until they are not.
A newcomer, #46 (Caitlin Zambito), is an enigma to the other girls. She is home-schooled and lives in a yurt with her mother. Quiet, shy, and confident, she takes the mild abuse of the others in stride and eventually earns their respect on the field.
The nine young actors are an amazing ensemble and an utter joy to behold. I believe this cast will be nominated come awards season.
The ideal scenic design by Amanda Knehans consists of artificial turf, with a curving white stripe for authenticity, that covers the floor and sweeps up to the grid. Lighting is designed by Rose Malone; costumes are by Elena Flores; Jeff Gardner is the sound designer; and Christopher Komuro is the graphic designer. Anna Klevit manages the stage with assurance.
The Wolves, produced for The Echo Theater Company by Chris Fields, Rachael Zambias, and associate producers Erin Henriques and Michael Sturgis, extends through May 6 at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue in Los Angeles.