‘The Wolves’ mesmerize onstage and on the field

U.Va. Drama production presents multilayered plot centering around female soccer team

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Amanda McRaven, director of the U.Va. Drama Department's production "The Wolves," says she is passionate about telling complex stories featuring female protagonists.

Courtesy Tess Lotta

“I love plays by women about women that aren’t love stories,” “The Wolves” director Amanda McRaven said of the drama department’s latest production, currently running at the Ruth Caplin Theatre. The play centers around the members of an indoor soccer team as they prepare for their games, exploring their friendships, personal struggles and individual wills.    

The highlight of the production was the work of all nine leads. The ensemble cast — often onstage together, engaging in separate conversations simultaneously — shined as a unit and in individual performances. Third-year College student Heidi Waldenmaier leads the team as captain and has a commanding presence as well as a few standout lines of comedy. First-year College student Rosie Boatner-Doane is the overcommitted, pressure-driven goalie whose emotional, careful performance is a standout, even when she stays silent for a whole scene. 

The whole team — composed of first- through fourth-year actors — blend and clash impressively on stage, their collaboration in staging and rehearsal a visible element of the production. And yet the conversations seem natural, have a kind of off-beat rhythm, and — perhaps most importantly — do not devalue the thoughts of a diverse group of opinionated women. 

“The Wolves” prioritizes the young, female voice that much of playwriting has scorned. It explores, without judgment, the strengths and weaknesses of character in a group of nine women who come together to play soccer. 

“I wanted to create a production that honored each voice and their collective spirit — as a team of women who ultimately support and love each other much more than they compete with each other,” McRaven said. 

The players are funny. They fight. They talk about politics and history — with varying levels of knowledge on the subject — and in the next breath discuss tampons and trips to a lake house. The audience can feel the rhythm of conversation on stage. The viewer is a witness to truthful interaction between young women, minus the condescension of old men. 

“The Wolves” invites you to watch as the minds and hearts of nine women bounce off each other, trading ideas, exchanging blows and reconciling differences. The lively energy of the play — soundtracked by M.I.A.’s ferocious 2010 bop “Bad Girls” — ebbs and flows as games are won and lost, but McRaven’s directorial principles hold the viewer at attention. 

“I think the theater as a whole over time lost a sense of vibrancy,” McRaven said. “I like productions that embrace spectacle and theatricality … I want audiences to have an experience they can only have in a theater.”

Spectacle and theatricality abound in “The Wolves,” with its multi-layered conversations and constant circulation of soccer drills and warm-ups. Girls kick and pass balls, juggle and chant, all while idly talking and processing feelings. When all actors are present on stage, the near-constant motion forces the viewer to decide where to look, to make a choice as part of the theater-going experience. 

McRaven said “The Wolves” was “a very difficult play to direct because of the choral nature of the piece … It was definitely a challenge, but a really fun one.” 

“The Wolves” worked best when the players controlled the stage. Given the reins to their own, less-than-complete arcs, each girl could stretch her legs and interact with other characters. They do not become fully-formed adults or learn neatly boxed lessons by the end of the play, but they do experience grief as a team and come out together. “The Wolves” is a slice of the traditional coming-of-age story, and its characters shine because of it. 

“The Wolves” is showing at the Ruth Caplin Theatre through Saturday, Oct. 27.

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