REVIEW: The Wolves

I don’t know if the opening night audience really understood how good THE WOLVES is.  As a script, its pure genius.  Without giving anything away, know that it’s a slice of life piece about a group of high school indoor soccer players – all female – and their struggles and victories, fights and failures.  It’s a bold script, sometimes with multiple conversations happening on stage at the same time.  I wonder if some of the audience might have been confused; the direction from D. Lynn Meyers, though, handled this and other multiple staging challenges well.  I wonder if the show is too much for some people.  Meyers says in her director’s notes that this show “roars off the page” and she certainly directs it with all the intensity it requires.

The team practices soccer on stage, almost throughout the entire show. It’s a massively physical play and the 9 young women who make up “The Wolves” give it their all throughout.  But not just physically; there are some powerhouse emotional moments, too.  Yet, playwright Sarah Delappe is brilliant in her restraint.  She takes us right to the brink of full-blown melt downs and outbursts and allows her strong characters to be real.  Most people aren’t flagrantly dramatic in real life.  For the most part, this cast maintains a sense of realism in their performances.

I am especially impressed by the work of Maggie Cramer.  Not once did I ever doubt the authenticity of her character.  She has presence, charisma, but the talent to know how to channel it into some of the best character work I’ve seen this season.  Also top-notch is Avery Deutsch, whose sense of humor and self-awareness informs a fantastic performance.  Without giving away anything too important, I want to mention Katie Mitchell’s dramatic transformation in the final scene.  Her physical appearance changes and so does her entire performance.  It is a striking difference in comfortability on stage and if intentional, it’s one of the bravest and best acting choices I’ve ever seen.  The show also features Maya Farhat, Maliyah Gramata-Jones, Victoria Hawley, Becca Howell, Natalie Joyce, Kayla Marie Klammer, and for a brief, but pivotal moment, Annie Fitzpatrick.  Each of them has the opportunity to shine and as the cast continues to bond and gel, their chemistry together will only get stronger.

As always, Brian c. Mehring’s set and lighting are astonishing.  Stormie Mac’s costumes range from smart and sophisticated to culturally appropriate and even a hysterical helmet or two.  Matt Callahan’s sound is pulsating and perfect.  Erin Carr serves as a “physical movement choreographer,” and in this show that’s a necessity.  Thanks to her, the cast hits all the right moves.

I’ve never played soccer and I’ve never been a fan.  I’ve also – shockingly – never been a teenage girl.  But Ensemble Theatre’s production of THE WOLVES gives accessible insight into the world of team sports and femalehood.  Even bigger than that, it makes us feel the full range of human emotions.  And that will always earn a thumbs up from me.

THE WOLVES runs at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati through June 29th.  Click here for more information.