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Two costars of The Wolves talk about the play's life-changing impact
When Sarah Mezzanotte and Tedra Millan met performing in The Wolves at Vassar's Powerhouse Theater in summer 2016, they immediately connected. "We were each other's first friend in the cast," Millan remembers. "We bonded over quesadillas and being from the same area in Philly."
A year and a half later, their friendship has blossomed -- and so has the show. Sarah DeLappe's Pulitzer-nominated play about a high-school soccer team first transferred to Playwrights Realm last fall, where its rave reviews attracted the attention of mega-producer Scott Rudin, who mounted an encore run. Now Mezzanotte, Millan, and their teammates are back on the AstroTurf, this time at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, where The Wolves recently reopened for a limited engagement through January 7.
The show has served as a launching pad for the playwright and the young cast, particularly Mezzanotte and Millan, who made auspicious Broadway debuts between Wolves runs last season. Millan portrayed a lovestruck fan opposite Kevin Kline in Present Laughter, while Mezzanotte appeared as a naive aspiring actress alongside Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey in Six Degrees of Separation. "Broadway is the ultimate dream but also kind of scary," says Millan, who reached out to Mezzanotte for comfort and advice. "She'd call being like, 'Today was so hard, and I felt like I was no good,'" says Mezzanotte, explaining that Millan suffered from a sense of "imposter syndrome." "I reassured her that they were lucky to have her and that she's brilliant, even if she doesn't think that she is. Her bad is other peoples' brilliant. Then I was like, 'Wow, I should probably take a page out of that book.'"
Millan believes Broadway came calling when it did because of her work in The Wolves. "I give the play credit for sort of starting my career," she says. "It feels amazing to come back to it, and it's also wild to have done this Broadway circuit and then return to the play. It's a very different feeling."
"Some people say, 'Oh, you're going back to something that you've done before,'" Mezzanotte says, though she doesn't see that as a negative. "I'm always like, 'No, this is the bar that everything else will pale in comparison to forever."
Despite their off-stage camaraderie, onstage in The Wolves, their characters aren't exactly friends. In fact, all nine adolescent soccer players seem to live in the frenemy zone as they clash about everything from periods to politics during practice. Millan plays #46, the newbie, who is homeschooled and having trouble navigating the social hierarchy. Mezzanotte is #2, a religious people-pleaser who grapples with bulimia.
"I think they're very exaggerated versions of people we could be, they're not necessarily us," says Millan, adding that she knows what it's like to be the new girl. In elementary school, she moved from downtown Philadelphia to the suburbs, and she uses that experience to inform the character. "Being new and figuring out the dynamics and who she wants to be friends with, and not knowing how to get it -- that resonates so hard with me," Millan says.
Director Lila Neugebauer initially asked Mezzanotte to audition for the more stereotypical "mean girl" role, since the actress had played that kind of character in Ruby Rae Spiegel's Dry Land. But after her callback, the casting director asked Mezzanotte to try reading #2. "At first I was like, #2?," Mezzanotte recalls. "But when we started rehearsing I was like, oh, of course! I went to an Episcopalian high school, and I had to stop playing soccer because my mother was so worried about me getting concussions." And the similarities go even deeper. "I have struggled with eating disorder-related issues," she admits. "I think that that's the hardest part for me to do every day, day after day."
Even though this is their fourth time around in The Wolves, Mezzanotte and Millan still relish playing such fully realized and non-sexualized female characters. "When people talk about women in the industry, the phrase 'strong woman' comes up, but that's not the solution," Millan says. "Yes, let's have strong women in the movies and the plays that we're watching. But let's have women that are completely three-dimensional and are going through things. They don't have to be 'strong;' they can be human."
Now that The Wolves has been licensed, actresses across the country are getting a chance to play these complicated women, too. "If you go on Instagram and search #thewolves, you can see all these different teams all over the place," says Millan. "It's incredible to think that there are groups of women all over forming sisterly bonds -- or humanly bonds like we have. It's a beautiful thing."
Follow Suzy Evans at @suzyeevans. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: The cast of The Wolves. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
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