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Fighting Hormones, Frenemies, and Preconceived Notions

Date: Sep 07, 2016

Sarah DeLappe's new play takes audiences inside the insular world of teenage girls


Although Sarah DeLappe played the sport in her youth, the inspiration for her new play The Wolves, about a suburban girls' soccer team, came from far off the field at Here and Elsewhere, an exhibit of contemporary Arab art at The New Museum. "As I was walking around and looking at all of this art born of conflict, violence, political and civil strife, much due to American foreign policy, I was deeply moved but also struck by how far away I felt from it all," the playwright remembers. "The privilege of looking at these works but still feeling such a great distance, and listening to people's conversations about it on the Bowery in the middle of summer, coalesced into this play for me. What could be further away from this than teenage girls on an indoor field warming up for soccer games?"

Not that these characters are just made of superficial selfies and spice -- they have a lot more going on inside than you might initially expect. Produced by The Playwrights Realm and currently in previews at the Duke on 42nd Street, the entire 90-minute show takes place on one AstroTurf field, but it's far from static. Known solely by their jersey numbers, the nine high school juniors (played by an ensemble of twentysomethings) are constantly moving, both physically and psychologically. As they pass the ball back and forth, they exchange ideas, thoughts, and confidences. The chatter is incessant but insightful, offering a glimpse into the insular and messy world of American teenage girls as they candidly discuss everything from periods to politics.

Although this may sound disconnected from the seed planted by that art exhibit, DeLappe insists the link is there. "The characters start the play talking about the Khmer Rouge Cambodian genocide," she points out. "I feel like a lot of the play is about an inability to understand suffering until it's too late. Even when it happens, they don't have the vocabulary or life experience to incorporate it into their everyday existence."


It's also telling that DeLappe repeatedly refers to the girls as "warriors," with each warmup akin to soldiers prepping for battle -- only the war they're waging is inside themselves. "Not to psychoanalyze myself, but it's kind of related to being a twin, too," says the dramatist, whose twin sister is currently applying to med school. "It's about growing up feeling like you're a part of something and trying to move out of it and come back into it."

A Yale grad who studied playwriting with Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel, the Brooklyn-based DeLappe is now 26, a decade older than her protagonists. Yet she still feels simpatico with female adolescents, both because that stage isn't too far behind her and since she tutors teens. "I am fascinated by the rhythms of teen speech; it's the forefront of language," she says. "All of the 'ums' and 'likes' and 'oh my gods,' and the lilt of it I find beautiful. In rehearsals we started saying they're a planet of teenage girls. They are alone and they own this turf, which gives them a great amount of freedom in how they talk, what they talk about, the different identities they try on, who they are when they aren't being defined as daughters or girlfriends or being objectified."

DeLappe's first professionally produced play, The Wolves won the inaugural Relentless Award (created in honor of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman). It also enjoyed a staged workshop run earlier this summer at Vassar's Powerhouse Theater directed by Lila Neugebauer, a soccer maven who's been developing the show with DeLappe for the past 18 months.

"I sent it to Lila and we just clicked," DeLappe recalls. "She told me, 'I've played soccer my entire life! This is a dream job pairing the two things I care most about: theatre and soccer.' We workshopped it at Clubbed Thumb, Playwrights Horizons Theatre School, and then at Vassar, so we've had a long path together. She is so insanely specific in the ways in which she's attuned to this world, not only club soccer, but of being a 16-year-old girl. It's a joy to watch her work with these actors and to see her mold the physical life of this play, which is really essential. I think there's something about seeing that many teenage women onstage that's really exciting to people and to me. When I wrote it, I wasn't thinking about it being produced. I wrote it because I heard these nine young voices in my head. These women are strong and furious and complicated people."


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Photos by Daniel J. Vasquez

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