Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, which is her first play, got such stellar notices and packed houses when it opened in September at the Duke on 42nd Street that now it is back for a return engagement, and it’s easy to see what so many people were excited about. DeLappe has created nine distinct young female characters who play on the same soccer team, and they speak in loud bursts of overlapping dialogue. When we first hear them, one side of the field is talking about the genocide in Cambodia while the other side is talking just as urgently about feminine hygiene products. This juxtaposition feels utterly natural, as does the closely observed speech patterns of the girls, some of whom use very macho guy phraseology and all of whom fall into overuse of the qualifying word “like.”
It turns out that DeLappe is very aware of what she is doing with these speech patterns, so much so that she even makes them the subject of the climactic scene in the play, when a mother of one of the girls, played by Kate Arrington, comes onto the field and delivers a desperate monologue that centers on the fact that she has a tip jar in her house where her children have to deposit a quarter every time they say “like.” Arrington has been given a dream role because the young girls do so much of the heavy lifting in The Wolves and then she comes on and gets the whole ending, which DeLappe allows her to work her way into.
There is something very flashy and attention-getting about the writing and the playing here, which can seem overly slick and practiced sometimes. This production would benefit from letting some air in between words and some breaks from the hyper-realism of the style. The dialogue does definitely have the ring of reality, but sometimes the shaping of it and the delivery of it is too molded, and too set in its ways. The slightest shift down to a more naturalistic level really would make all the difference here. There are a few quiet moments in The Wolves, but they usually get drowned out by all the colorful verbal relay races.
We spend enough time with these girls to get to know many different sides of them, and they do seem like genuine, mysterious, struggling people instead of constructs. DeLappe’s voice as a playwright is a rich, funny, and surprising one, and it seems in this first play that she is feeling her oats and allowing her talent to lead her around a bit. Though they are differentiated, all of these girls have an admirable kind of tough and often profane humor that is very winning and very lively, and this character trait stands as an emblem of DeLappe’s style and hopefully a harbinger of things to come from her.
Photos Courtesy of Daniel J. Vasquez