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Alive and Kicking

Arizona Repertory Theatre scores with a fiercely female production of The Wolves

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A finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe is currently one of the hottest plays making the circuit right now. With a story that is modern and fiercely female, it is no surprise that Arizona Repertory Theatre at the University of Arizona added it to its 2019/20 Season and produced it with a team made, predominantly, of women.

The Wolves follows a soccer team of nine teenage girls through six consecutive weeks of soccer pre-game warm-ups. The audience is not spoon-fed the plot through these weekly snapshots, but instead must listen to the characters and watch them interact to follow the story being told. The young women often talk in multiple smaller conversations that overlap one another, as large groups tend to do. They talk about the stereotypical teenage girl things like college and sex, but also discuss world events, politics, abortion and many other topics that some might consider "too adult" for the generation being portrayed. I find this consideration especially important at a time when the youth of the world are screaming at the top of their lungs for the adults to take them seriously about anything, and when women are fighting just as hard as ever to not be silenced or scoffed at.

The Wolves is a coming-of-age story, and at its core amplifies the importance of being on a team. Whether in sports, theatre or any other aspect of life, being on a team teaches us how to navigate group dynamics, become more mindful of those around us, learn to lead, and learn to follow. Teamwork also helps us find our chosen tribes, with teammates often becoming the people we celebrate our joy with and who hold us together when we experience loss.

Arizona Repertory Theatre's production, expertly directed by Claire Mannle, portrays the familial dynamic of this particular team, channeling the love these young women have for one another into the Tornabene Theatre. Mannle puts this cast through the wringer—every scene contains physical exercises that ensure the cast will be in good shape for months after this show. "Coaching" the cast's execution of the rhythms in the script, especially in moments when we must shift from multi-faceted chaos to attention on one particular character, Mannle guides our attention seamlessly. The creative team's designs further enhance the rawness of the script. Ally Frieders' scenic design is simple and smart—replicating a corner of an indoor soccer square with turf on the ground and a netted backdrop on two of the four sides helping to keep the action tight. The lighting by Mack Woods and sound design by Hunter Sweetser are also simple but sophisticated and do their parts to generate the world of the production. 

The costume design by Sierra Adamo is perfect. The characters are dressed in the same soccer uniform throughout, but each character's personality comes through in their accessories. I fully appreciated what each hairstyle, headband, and backpack said about each individual—an attention to detail that can only be the result of true collaborative teamwork with Mannle and the cast.

The actors are women from various backgrounds, though most of them are students in the UA School of Theatre, Film, and Television. The characters are listed by their jersey number, enhancing the show's "Everyman" status. #25 (Lotus Rogers), the team captain and peacemaker, brought an air of leadership that suited the character. #00 (Vaune Suitt) played the mostly speechless goalie, commanding our attention through her own focus despite her silence. #46 (Maggie McNeil) is the "odd" new girl who just joined the team and struggles to be accepted. McNeil's comedic timing and embodiment of her character is truly inspired.  #07 (Reagan Kennedy) and #14 (Paige Mills) are BFFs FOREVER. The chemistry between Kennedy and Mills makes it clear that they will be the first to defend and protect the other from the rest of the group, even if they can't protect themselves from each other. #02 (Sophia Goodin) innocently struggles to escape the constructs of the economic and religious restrictions she has been raised under. #13 (Elana Rose Richardson) is a tomboy/Sporty Spice character with an older drug-dealing brother that has influenced some of her own habits, and Richardson brought many nuanced layers to the role. #11 (Lauren Vialva) is a passionate activist, eager to tell everyone about all the injustices in the world and call them out on their "isms," and Vialva brought a nice balance of intensity and sincerity to the character.  #08 (Eaven Clare Brunswick) is the most "girly" of all the characters, quick to be excited or over-dramatic about the smallest issues. Brunswick was able to find some honesty in her slight ridiculousness. Finally, there is Soccer Mom (Callie Hutchinson) who is only present for about five to 10 minutes, but Hutchinson does a fine job channeling the energy of the emotional chaos that the character is living in.

I could go on for days dissecting all the themes and issues that The Wolves explores, but suggest you just go see this contemporary, female-driven production instead. Don't let your UA Theatre team down—those 90 minutes are worth it.

Find this and other local theatre reviews at tamingofthereview.com, a totally kick-ass, female-led, local, diverse, and community-oriented collective dedicated to coverage of Tucson theatre.

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