Dramaturg Lauren Halvorsen on The Wolves

"I wanted to see a portrait of teenage girls as human beings," says playwright Sarah DeLappe. "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." The Wolves, DeLappe's electric debut play, follows an elite high school girls' indoor soccer team, somewhere in suburbia, as they navigate the contact sport of adolescence.

DeLappe originally conceived The Wolves as a spin on war movies: “I’ve seen a lot of those with 19-year-old men, but not 16-year-old women,” she says, “All of those films depict how these disparate men became one organism in order to survive. I wanted women to have access to the same material." To emphasize that unit mentality, each character is identified by her jersey number rather than her name.

The play’s choreography also shows many individuals working as one. Each scene of The Wolves is set pre-game, as the girls complete a series of stretches and exercises in unison, executed with military precision: squats, butt-kicks, lunges, passing drills. The games may happen offstage, but the warm-ups are their own athletic—and cultural—event. In a world that dismisses and hypersexualizes young women, The Wolves’ ritualized physicality legitimizes female strength.

The whirlwind banter and cross-talk layered over the rhythmic warm-ups form the play’s other distinct artistic vocabulary. (DeLappe credits the naturalistic dialogue to her experience tutoring high school girls.) Conversations careen from menstrual cycles to social studies homework, family dynamics to pop culture, serious gossip to silly inside jokes. There is a wealth of sincerity and compassion alongside flares of clumsy bluntness and spite between teammates. DeLappe presents standard archetypes—the captain, the rebel, the innocent, the new girl—that yield to reveal tenuous identities still in formation.

The Wolves' calibrated collision of athletics, theatrics, and language asserts that young women contain multitudes. The play creates a rare playing field for the interior lives of teenage girls—a space where they can exist unobserved, in all their complication—while acknowledging the finite insularity of youth. What happens when the realities of the outside world refuse to stay on the sidelines? Sarah DeLappe upends traditional coming-of-age stories, amplifying young women's desires and fears, and infuses that vulnerability with a raw, rabid prowess.