The first thing you notice are the nets.
They curtain the stage and the aisle of the tiny Old Fitz, shrinking the space to a pinpoint. There is nothing but the world behind the nets; the only thing that matters is this indoor sports stadium where a teenage girls’ soccer team, The Wolves, plays every Saturday.
Led by their captain #25 (Brenna Harding), they refer to each other mostly by number (the actors are Emma Harvie, Sarah Rae Anne Meacham, Sofia Nolan, Michelle Ny, Cece Peters, Zoe Terakes, Nikita Waldron and Nadia Zwecker); in this space, they are the whole world. These teens have played together for years, on and off-season, and they’re serious about their sport. College scouts are sniffing around and they’re desperate to get a bite.
Their tenuous grip on equanimity is constantly threatened: by a new girl joining the team; by a shift in friendship dynamics, or by one of the girls developing a romantic closeness with another girl – one who isn’t on the team.
And there are other tensions, too, more serious and unspoken. Every single teammate has a reason for playing, for letting go and being in the moment, all body and ball.
Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play places the audience as voyeur as these young women tackle aggression, fear, and anxiety through different kinds of competition. Their conversations overlap and interrupt as they run passing drills and stretch and we acclimate to the world, their shorthand and their team structure (it’s hierarchical, based on a complex system of physical acumen and social and financial currency).
When something shattering happens, we don’t see it – we must wait for the teammates to arrive back on the indoor field, and listen for context clues.
In an independent sector that has, in recent years, seemed mostly focused on stories about male aggression and coming of age, this play adds a much-needed new dimension: here are young women talking about, well, everything.
You’ll hear world politics and periods and Lord of the Rings jokes; you’ll hear them talking about wanting: wanting to win, wanting a future, wanting more than they currently have. About being angry.
They barely talk about men, and when they do, it’s with a realistic wariness. This play lets the world of women be bigger than most plays will allow.
Directed by Jessica Arthur, the play feels more like a showcase than a fly-on-the-wall observation.
Occasionally, there’s precision – when the ensemble moves together like they’ve been warming up the same way for years – but that in-step, bodied knowledge of the space and each other and the comfort that comes when young women are finally where they feel strong, more or less removed from male gaze, where they can turn off the performance of everyday life, is lacking.
DeLappe both relies on and plays with recognisable tropes to tell her story. The teammates are familiar archetypes, though drawn with a reasonably refreshing lack of preciousness, and the plot twists are not necessarily unexpected, but they are charged with a new frankness and genuine darkness that women are generally discouraged from displaying.
Uneven performances lessen the impact of the script’s nuance and reveals the machinations of the playwriting – which, without momentum, lands too softly.
Arthur’s all-woman creative team serves the actors beautifully: the lighting (Veronique Benett), set and costumes (Maya Keyes) and sound design (Clemence Williams) each afford the women the dignity of modern-day warriors, supporting their performances in this performer-driven play with bolstering patience and sensitivity.
This production is still growing into itself; its ensemble is still learning how to come together. As the season continues it might all gel together a little more.
There’s still promising capacity here to feel less like a play that’s working overtime, and more like one that’s barreling through our misconceptions about the secret life of teenagers towards a rarely spoken, much-needed truth.