Idaho State University’s theater department kicks off its 2020-2021 season with Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves,” directed by Vanessa Ballam. “The Wolves” tells the story of the titular high-school girls indoor soccer team, chronicling their journey through a challenging season. The team is tested by many trials: fraught friendships, wrenching grief, competition both within and without. Through it all, the girls hang on to the hope that this next game will be the win they’ve been waiting for, a familiar feeling for all of us in the year 2020. In this case, at least, I’m pleased to report that “The Wolves” is, indeed, a win.
Just bringing this play to the stage has been a challenge. The performance was originally slated for the spring, but the onset of the global pandemic meant that “The Wolves” had to be postponed. Luckily, Ballam was able to retain many of her original cast members, and the production was revived for this fall.
Of course, safely producing theater during the pandemic is an ongoing challenge, and ISU is implementing measures to keep everyone safe. Reduced seating capacity and mask mandates for performers and audience members are in place for theatergoers who want the live and in-person experience, but the show is also available via livestreaming for viewers more comfortable at home. I quickly grew used to watching the masked performers, who are able to effectively project their voices through their face coverings.
Performing through masks, though, is only one element of a show that demands much of its performers. During most scenes, the team is warming up for their next soccer game. The cast worked with ISU’s women’s soccer team to develop authentic workout routines for the stage. The actors must work through the highly physical regimen while simultaneously portraying their characters. On top of that, the dialogue of “The Wolves” is written in an overlapping style that mimics the chaotic flow of real conversation, which presents considerable difficulty for memorization. Add it all up, and it’s an impressive feat.
That feat, of course, would be impossible without a worthy cast. It’s good, then, that “The Wolves” features a strong ensemble. Hope Fitzgerald is compelling as No. 25, a burgeoning leader who has begun to shoulder responsibility beyond her years but is still unsure of herself. Teegan Schriock turns in an affecting performance as No. 46, the earnest and socially awkward newcomer to the team. Theater is truly a team sport, and it’s no less evident than when a show has a deep bench of strong performances, as this one does.
In terms of the staging, ISU’s production opts for a simple and effective scenic design: the audience sits on two sides of an AstroTurf rectangle. The actors make their entrances from any of the Black Box Theater’s four corners, which makes for a dynamic and intimate performance. Meanwhile, lighting fixtures that evoke indoor stadium lights hang overhead.
On first impression, “The Wolves” might not seem to leave much room for production design, given that all of the scenes take place on the indoor soccer field with the girls in uniform. Not so! ISU’s thoughtful student designers, like costume designer Austin Baum and prop designer Katie Ware, find room for subtle touches, such as the different soccer bags that each girl carries onto the field. Student lighting designer Bryan Zipp recreates the glare of artificial stadium lighting, but lights the transitions between scenes in bolder hues of magenta, red and blue, evoking the mythic dimensions that sports take on for fans and players both. This careful attention to detail rewards the attention of observant theatergoers.
“The Wolves” flips the script by centering the narrative on the perspective of young women, still a relative rarity in a field that’s been historically dominated by men. That, along with the hard work put into the production by students and faculty both, makes this a show you’ll want to root for. The final performances of “The Wolves” are this Friday and Saturday.
Ted Bonman teaches English and theater at Century High School.