The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe
In the not-so-distant past, I performed frequently in small professional theatre productions. I’m a slightly-less-than 5’ tall woman, so I was often cast as teen and early-twenties characters, and I always had an eye out for plays that I could potentially pull monologues from for auditions. When The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe, a play about a high school girls’ indoor soccer team, started making waves and eventually was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer, it seemed like it could be a great option (and mostl likely would be a good read, regardless). Five years and too many pandemic-induced fine lines and gray hairs to ever play a teenager again later, I finally got around to reading the play!
The Wolves follows a girls soccer team (the name of the team is…..The Wolves!) through their season, with each scene showing a pre-game warm up at the indoor sports facility that the team plays in. Characters are identified by their jersey numbers rather than names, and relationships, character backgrounds, and plot developments are revealed through snatches of conversations caught between warm-up exercises led by #25, the team captain.
The play shines in how it reveals so much about each girl’s life and personality in small, incredibly natural interactions. Between high-knees and stretches, they manage to discuss world politics, their sex lives, gossip about school and their non-soccer extracurriculars, their home lives, and everything in between. There were moments in the play that almost knocked me down with how honestly they reflected my own teen experience – sometimes funny, and sometimes heartbreaking. It’s such a small moment in the play, but one that keeps coming back to me is #7, when she discovers that the rest of the team has been gossiping about her abortion the previous year, yells at the group “It was just Plan B, you dicks!”
My only real criticism is that the play was difficult to follow on the page. It took a long time to figure out which character was which since everyone was identified by their number rather than their name, and there are a lot of conversations taking place side-by-side throughout the show. Since it took me so long to get clear about which character was which, the last scene and tragic/triumphant final moments were not nearly as effective as they would have been if I had been able to get invested in the individual characters more quickly.
Dance Nation by Clare Barron
I paired these two reviews because I originally purchased these plays for the same reason: I was interested in finding monologues for young women and reading shows that I felt I could potentially be cast in. Jokes on me, because it turns out I could be cast in Dance Nation even with my covid-societal breakdown-capitalist hellscape wrinkles: although the characters are between 11 and 14 years old, they are meant to be played by adult actors (in fact, the playwright encourages producers to resist the urge to cast only young-looking actors). Readers are encouraged to think of it as a “ghost play”: the 13-year-olds being portrayed are haunted by their adult selves, and vice versa.
These two plays are fantastic to read together, and even if I hadn’t read one right after the other it would be difficult to keep from comparing the two. Both follow teen girls who are throwing themselves (or being forced) through the crucible of competition in sports where their bodies, talent, and relationships are pushed to the breaking point. They’re particularly interesting to view side-by-side, because they deal with similar themes and both of them have the spectre of girlhood and puberty pulsing throughout – but while The Wolves is striking for its naturalism, Dance Nation dives deep into metaphor and imagination. The playwright’s note says it all: “Cuteness is death. Pagan feral-ness and ferocity are key.”
I loved how off-the-wall and bold this play is. It’s a strange ride, complete with gaping wounds, menstrual blood transformed into war paint, and an inappropriate (yet deeply appropriative) dance piece inspired by the life and legacy of Ghandi. As a former youth dancer, I was able to relate to moments in this play in a way that couldn’t exactly with the soccer players in The Wolves (I have always had a strict “no projectiles” policy for my hobbies). Each girl (and the one boy on the dance team, Luke) has a flash forward/back monologue where their adult self reflects on their lives, which adds a fascinating and often touching dimension to the show.
That said, it’s difficult to imagine how some of the stage directions would be executed. There is a surprising (or perhaps not?) amount of gore demanded in the script, and it’s a bit hard to visualize how it would read for the older actors to portray these young characters. Dance Nation also lacks as clear of an emotional climax and denouement as The Wolves, opting instead for ritualistic chanting and a surprisingly melancholy ending monologue from Amina, the star dancer. Onstage, I think these choices would make more sense and make for a satisfying evening at the theatre, but the play’s resistance to a clean narrative makes it less enjoyable as a reading experience.
Overall, I encourage you to keep an eye out on your local theatre groups to see if either of these plays go up in your communities – both are exciting and often visceral windows into girl-dom, and if you have ever been a teenage girl you will definitely find moments to relate in both!