The Loyola Department of Performing Arts (DFPA) premiered its second theater production of the semester with “The Wolves” Oct. 24. Under the direction of Jonathan Wilson, professor of theatre and drama in Loyola’s DFPA, the cast and crew realize the experimental style of playwright Sarah DeLappe with nuanced acting and deft management of the Zoom video platform.
At its surface, “The Wolves” is a collection of conversations held by a high school girls’ soccer team, but, in reality, it’s a rollercoaster of a narrative that’s more about the characters than anything else. Cameron Sheppard, a Loyola senior and the dramaturg of this production, agrees, commenting in the dramaturg’s note, “[DeLappe] writes complex, dimensional characters without falling into archetypal portrayals of high-school girls.”
That dimensionality is shown by the atypically fast-paced and seemingly chaotic dialogue that strikes the viewer from the beginning. As with the majority of the production, the characters explore each other and themselves by having all or most of them on-screen at once, engaging in several conversations simultaneously. It’s disconcerting at first and highly unusual, and it forces the audience to pay attention, else they might miss a line of the fiery dialogue that passes between the girls.
But this dialogue clearly deserves attention, since, simultaneously, the team discusses a myriad of topics ranging from pads and tampons to Cambodian genocide. All of these topics contribute to this more complex portrayal of the girls, showing they’re more than just “girlfriends or sex objects or manic pixie dream girls,” as DeLappe has said about her work.
The team, which goes by “The Wolves,” is comprised of nine individuals identified to the audience by their jersey numbers. Player #11, portrayed by Sophia Agusta, a Loyola junior majoring in theatre, is often shown fact-checking her teammates, getting angry at misinformation and speaking of obscure documentaries and websites.
Agusta deftly walks the fine line between making #11 seem irritable and inviting, and she’s a prime example of the mold-defying characters DeLappe has written. Agusta also displays #11’s contradictions and shortcomings with a subtlety that enlivens a viewer’s mind.
Mikayla De Guzman, a Loyola sophomore, brings her interpretation of #00, the team’s goalie and a prodigious yet pained individual. Her kind yet tense silence throughout the majority of the production is the mark of her intense worry and her struggle with social anxiety disorder. The climax of her emotional journey involves a ripping shout, delivered with seemingly genuine anguish by Guzman, and it shocks a viewer into considering just how burdened #00 might be.
Player #46 is another character who shows the pain behind her face, represented by Jennifer Hessel, a Loyola sophomore. Being new to the team and having not spent much time in the United States, Hessel shows #46 as struggling to understand the other girls’ practices and beliefs.
The discreet hesitation she often has before calling “soccer” what she knows as “football” sells just how out of place #46 feels. This, combined with being on the receiving end of the other girls’ insensitive cultural remarks, leads her to repress her emotions behind a smile in order to better fit in, though she eventually snaps.
The case of #46 brings into focus just one of the many-layered complexities within “The Wolves.” As tough a time as her teammates give her, nowhere does DeLappe explicitly condemn the girls, because the situation isn’t so clear-cut. While the girls are sometimes unintentionally rude towards #46, they are more often intentionally kind toward her, and the pressure to conform that riddles #46 is more the force of American culture in general.
With these broad strokes involving clashing cultures and contemplation regarding Cambodia, DeLappe brings into the fold heavy philosophical and political topics. It serves as a reminder these girls are entirely capable — and some even eager — to brew such ideas in their minds.
Beyond this, there are a number of other all-too-realistically complicated issues that “The Wolves” presents, but it’s only able to do this because of its uncommon structure. This production has no definite antagonist or conflict, which directly defies Western storytelling traditions and allows for more time to be spent on the characters, carrying them all through intriguing journeys in under two hours.
These interwoven personal journeys are what makes “The Wolves” so interesting, but it’s the cast and the crew who captivate the audience with characters brimming with life. In spite of the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown at them, the team has thrived in creating yet another production for viewers to enjoy in the comfort of home.
The remaining showings of “The Wolves” are Oct. 31, at 6 p.m. and Nov. 1, at 2 p.m. Tickets are available here for a minimum of $5, though potential viewers are free to give further support to the DFPA.