You go girls: The Wolves at the Citadel, a review

The Wolves, The Maggie Tree in the Citadel Theatre Highwire Series. Photo by Nanc Price for the Citadel.

By Liz Nicholls,

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” says the teenage captain of the Wolves, #25, quoting her coach dad, and applying herself sturdily to holding the soccer team together through every kind of teenage girl friction. “Hustle ladies, hustle.”

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The Wolves immerses you — no exposition and no names, only numbers — in the world of teenage girls. And it’s a full-body dunking. There are nine teenage characters, players on an indoor soccer team,  and they chatter and banter and argue over top of each other constantly as they warm up in sync for their weekly Saturday games. The tenth character, the only adult, is a soccer mom who appears very late in the play. 

What makes the Pulitzer-nominated play by the young American writer Sarah DeLappe (her first to be produced) so intriguing to experience is the gradual, sneaky way that individual characters emerge from the “team.” For 20 minutes you think you’re drowning in cross-hatched fragments of conversations that loop back to each other or refer to offstage events. And then, as you’ll see in Vanessa Sabourin’s Maggie Tree production (part of the Citadel’s Highwire Series), it dawns on you that individual people have emerged from the ensemble buzz of talk and movement, and you don’t need names to differentiate them. 

By the time the characters don team jackets, and thus hide even the numbers on their jerseys, you know them a bit, for their distinctive locations in the rocky terrain between childhood and adulthood, where identity is formative rather than finished. They’re emerging personalities, confident and assertive one moment and crushed into partial retreats the next. The kind of attentiveness this invites — well, requires — of us is live, and fun.

So there we are, improbably in the Citadel’s small downstairs theatre, the Rice, on either side of an Astroturf field (designer: Whittyn Jason). And we’re tuning in to teen girls, in perpetual motion (movement director Amber Borotsik), arriving from their weekday lives on successive Saturday morning sessions. The scenes are separated by an ominously thudding sound score (Kiidra Duhault) I didn’t really get.  

The Wolves, a Maggie Tree production at the Citadel Theatre. Photo by Nanc Price for the Citadel.

It all feels unfiltered, in both subject matter and tone. Earnestness and teen girl off-handedness swirl together. The smalltalk is a melange of the particular and glimpses of the great big world — periods, life-sized zits, and Cambodia, the pronunciation of Khmer Rouge, the detainment of Mexican children in cages at the border, whether they have Twitter in China. “The internet isn’t the internet everywhere you guys,” says #25, who seems to have a reserve of resistance in Marguerite Lawler’s appealing performance. 

To throw out a small selection of examples, #11 (Pauline Miki) is a study-er, with opinions about the world and its moral complications. #13 (Michelle Diaz) is a wiseacre, the class clown with the arsenal of comebacks. #8 (Asia Weinkauf-Bowman), a late-bloomer, relies on references to Harry Potter and the Shire. “I don’t get the big deal about self-knowledge.” Fragile #2 (Sokhana Mfenyana) has a possible eating disorder. The anxiety-plagued goalie, #00 (Dean Stockdale), doesn’t speak; she rushes off the field to throw up before every game.

The most aggressive one, #7 (Daniela Fernandez), who has a college boyfriend and a predilection for the  F-bomb, resorts to macho-style mockery when challenged. #14 (Jameela McNeil), whom her teammates think is either Mexican or Armenian, defers to #7 — until she doesn’t. The outsider, #46 (Kaeley Jade Wiebe), is a mystery to the others, home-schooled, living in a yurt, with a formidable array of soccer skills that threatens the existing pecking order. “Is she even like American?” wonders one of her new teammates.  

The Wolves, a Maggie Tree Production at the Citadel Theatre. Photo by Nanc Price for the Citadel

They seem to have assigned roles in the great scheme and teen idiom of things. But — this is one of the beauties of the play — they can surprise you, each other, and themselves.

Fernandez’s #7, for example, who seems set forth as the A-type Mean Girl, rises unexpectedly to passion about the political limbo of immigrant kids on the border, a view possibly inspired by her dad. Wiebe’s #46, the tentative outsider, steps up to the team joke about her with a chant, as she demonstrates her fancy footwork. “I live in a yogurt; my feelings don’t get hurt.” 

The Wolves, in short, is a trickier, more intricate acting assignment than just having youthful, fresh, hormonal energy. And the ensemble gathered by The Maggie Tree, warmingly diverse as it is, and dotted with actors to keep your eye on, is variable in experience and skill. And that unevenness does show, in truth. Some of the characters do seem more inhabited than others, more able to negotiate the transitional teen mix of earnestness, bad jokes, spontaneous reactions, automatic throw-aways. Whenever the production seems careful, or delivered as a text, it falters. 

Having said that, though, I really appreciated the immersive experience. and its authentic texture of insights in the jostling camaraderie of Sabourin’s production. The jarring arrival of the soccer mom, played beautifully by Lebo Disele, in the play’s only real plot development makes you realize how fully engaged by the characters you’ve been for 90 minutes. It’s the most obliquely delivered bombshell ever.

The Wolves gives us a world in motion, not a story. Being a teenage girl, both an individual and a member of a team, en route to adulthood, is stakes enough.


The Wolves

Theatre: The Maggie Tree in the Citadel Highwire Series

Written by: Sarah DeLappe

Directed by: Vanessa Sabourin

Starring: Michelle Diaz, Lebo Disele, Daniela Fernandez, Marguerite Lawler, Jameela McNeil, Sokhana Mfenyana, Pauline Miki, Dean Stockdale, Asia Weinkauf-Bowman, Kaeley Jade Wiebe

Where: Citadel Rice Theatre

Running: through Oct. 30

Tickets: 780-425-1820,

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