Barnstormers impress with The Wolves

By RUDY MALCOM | February 14, 2019

a1-big

COURTESY OF JHU BARNSTORMERS

The Barnstormers presented their Intersession show, The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe, in Arellano Theater this weekend. The play — directed and produced by juniors Sydney Thomas and Maya Singh Sharkey, respectively — featured nine young women on a high school indoor soccer team. 

Because of the play’s title, I had mistakenly expected the cast to consist of a pack of werewolves. Over the course of the show’s 90 minutes, however, each character proved that she was still a shapeshifter of sorts. 

None of the characters served as a one-dimensional embodiment of a hackneyed stereotype. There isn’t a smart one or funny one or dramatic one. Instead all of the characters have evolving, shining identities and distinct and well-developed personalities that ebb and flow and clash and coincide together. 

Although characters had jersey numbers instead of names, each shined as a full human being. (To be honest, I usually dislike when playwrights refuse to give their characters names. Such playwrights seem to think that, by stripping their characters of the cornerstone of identity, their characters will be more relatable and universal. For some reason, this didn’t bother me so much in The Wolves, probably because jersey numbers are a reasonable marker for members of a soccer team.) 

For instance, #25, as team captain, must project strength, confidence and enthusiasm as she comes to terms with her sexuality. Junior Nancy Fallon, who played #25, gave an evocative performance as she exhibited passive-aggressive behavior and self-doubt. 

Prodigy #46 (freshman Joi Haskins), who has recently moved from overseas into a yurt that’s three buses away with her eccentric mother, struggles to fit in and decode her new teammates’ customs. She doesn’t “get why they have orange peels in their mouths” for a photograph, almost compulsively brings up a teammate’s rumored abortion and — perhaps most egregiously — calls soccer “football” throughout the show. 

The audience soon realizes that each scene of the play is a practice session or pre-game warm-up. I worried that the play would fail to entertain and become a bit one-note because its setting was a field of AstroTurf, and its plot inherently couldn’t be action-packed; however, DeLappe’s script is brilliant, and so are the Barnstormers. 

The characters debate not only the utility of menstrual products but also the politics (and pronunciation) of the Khmer Rouge. Their conversations aren’t merely accurate portrayals of what girls in high school talk about (trust me, as gay male, I would know); they’re also sharp and full of wit. I laughed out loud at a number of lines, including, from #7 (senior Octavia Fitzmaurice), “Haven’t you heard of free speech, like the First fucking Amendment?” and, from #14 (sophomore Ritika Kommareddi), “You want a piece of me? Here, have a piece of my ovary!” In addition, senior Caroline Halligan’s delivery was consistently spot-on.

In an email to The News-Letter, Thomas discussed how The Wolves subverts conventional representations of women in theatre.

“Women were represented as full people — not as props or plot devices,” she wrote. 

Kommareddi echoed Thomas’s sentiments in an email to The News-Letter.

“One of the most appealing aspects of the show is that the characters mention boys maybe once or twice in the entire thing,” she wrote. “In the past, theatre has often made women a plot device or simply a catalyst for moving a story along. In The Wolves, men are rarely a topic of conversation. The girls instead spend their time talking about their periods, current events and their aspirations for the future. It’s a refreshing change from the usual male-dominated romance plays that theatre seems to have so much of.”

Kommareddi added that she believed that DeLappe’s dexterity as a writer allowed audience members to connect with the Wolves.

“Sarah DeLappe has successfully captured the dialogue of teenage girls and made her script one of the most realistic I’ve ever read,” she wrote. “The emotions these girls feel and the experiences they have are so common to teenagers and young adults, and I think that our audience will see that and be able to relate to at least one of the characters in the show.”

Thomas agreed, noting that showgoers were able to identify with each of the characters because they are so multifaceted.

“I feel like each person watching the show will have one player that they really connect to,” she wrote. “The show presents so many sides to each character, and I hope that audiences will walk away having found common ground with those they might not have initially understood.”

One scene that I found particularly resonating was a foray into the mind of #00 (sophomore Mickey Sloat), who suffers from social anxiety disorder and has to vomit before every game. We watch her hyperventilating on the floor, her heartbeat and snippets of past conversations playing in the background. Sloat’s performance was exceptionally raw and authentic. 

And, in the last scene, the Wolves grapple with the sudden loss of #14, who died after being hit by a car while out running on a snowy morning. #14’s father (junior Frank Guerriero) gives a heartwarming speech. The team’s grief is palpable. 

Kommareddi attributed the success of this scene to the real, intense chemistry between the cast.

“This company has been fantastic to work with not only because of their talent, but also because we bonded so quickly. Knowing that I could trust my fellow cast members so deeply onstage is comforting, especially for such a raw and emotional show,” she wrote. “We have supported each other since the first day of rehearsals, and I can say with confidence that this is a cast that I will never forget.”

Thomas agreed, stressing that though directing her first full-length play was a huge undertaking, collaborating with people on whom she could depend helped immensely. 

In my opinion, the care that the cast members had for one another manifested on stage in their roles, which helped strengthen the delivery of the play’s message.

The theme of the play, as Thomas said herself, is empathy.

“This show is about so many things, but one of the biggest is... the way that different people can love and care for one another,” she wrote. “It’s also about growing up and figuring out who you are and where you belong — something that I think anyone can relate to.”

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.