From Nov. 11-13, 2022, Astroturf carpeted the LPAC mainstage. Athletes in cleats and Dutch braids jogged in and out of the stage entrances. This year’s production ensemble show, “The Wolves,” brought the heat to Swarthmore theater.
Written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Swarthmore professor Alex Torra, “The Wolves” featured an ensemble of women and non-binary actors playing a teenage girls’ indoor soccer team. I was struck by the cast of largely underclass students in matching uniforms designed by Professor Laila Swanson. Their stamina never once wavered during the snappy dialogue underscoring almost 90 minutes of soccer warm-ups. Rhythmic pops and hisses of the high schoolers’ conversation juxtaposed an intense, legato physical unison; the girls faced each other in a circle as they stretched.
DeLappe notes in her script’s preface a kind of “military precision” with which these warm-ups are “wordlessly execute[d].” Indeed, the Astroturf expanse of a set, designed by Professor Matt Saunders, evokes a battleground, reminding the audience that, as DeLappe puts it, “We’re on [the girls’] turf. They’re not on ours.” The teammates’ weapons of choice? Inside jokes, brutal insults, moments of deep empathy, and above all, a profound love for the sport that brought them together. After an intense fight comes a refreshing moment between #2 (Eva Murillo ʼ26) and #8 (Eva Nahass ʼ24), commiserating over the location of this year’s national competition. (If I was expecting a trip to Miami as well, I’d react to Tulsa the same way.) Earlier, the audience is charmed by #14’s (Maia Glass-Quicksall ʼ25) presentation of orange slices in a Ziploc bag — a snack her mom packed for the team.
Though each character had her own hopes, merits, alliances, and frustrations, they were united by their ping-ponging, overlapping speaking styles. Shannon Friel ʼ24, in particular, embraced these sharp turns effortlessly as the scatter-brained #13. I never had a clue what was about to come out of her character’s mouth. (My favorite gem from #13: “You have a hot mom. Those are the cards you were dealt.”) Also notable was the standout performance by Clara Mulligan ʼ25, playing newcomer #46, who had the entire crowd leaning over their seats in anticipation of their next adorably awkward line.
Torra and assistant director Jules Kyung Lee-Zacheis ʼ24 placed the audience on three sides of the stage, creating a microscopic lens under which audience members could study these high school athletes. Combined with the cool, caffeinated lighting designed by Jim Murphy, the narrow set transported audience members from their seats in a theater to bleachers in an indoor soccer field.
Liz Atkinson’s sound design, a progressively distorted symphony of blaring whistles, 2016 pop, and what I like to call “victory lap music,” echoes the emotional arc of goalie #00 (Siri Lokensgard ʼ25) in particular. Despite her neon attire, #00 stays mostly on the sidelines, almost never uttering a word. That is, until we find her alone onstage, repeating the same drill to the point of breaking down. Contrast this with the blunt, provocative attitude of #7, played by Khy Stubblefield ʼ26, and it becomes apparent why DeLappe’s play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Every single character had their own room to grow. (Sidebar — Stubblefield also had my favorite line of the night: “We don’t do genocides until senior year.”)
As the pressure of college recruitment, high school relationships, and physical injuries swells, the girls’ warm-ups begin to unravel with their conversations. Upon noticing a potential scout, #11 (Lauren Rohde ʼ25) exclaims to her friends, “Guys, he’s wearing a suit,” immediately flooding my mind with memories of my own high school classmates in identical situations. #7 suggests the “spiderweb” warmup, where players pass the ball across the circle to one another in an intricate pattern. This seems to be an attempt to re-thread the loom, to redirect the chaos. When the teammates’ anger and energy concentrate in one place, at one person, the physical warm-ups end, and everyone falls out of sync. The team is at its most fractured during moments of verbal cohesion. But when conversations return to their typical murmurs around the circle, the girls find their flow again, and move as a well-oiled machine. The one exception to this rule: the team huddle, accompanied by viscerally percussive shouts of, “WE ARE THE WOLVES!”
By the end of the play, most of the audience and all of the actors are in tears. The characters have fought, made up, fought again, and gotten themselves injured, and the audience meets them mid-recovery. I will not soon forget the last moments of the play, which the athletes spend in a teary-eyed, howling team huddle. The characters fell away at that point, and all I could see was a group of actors who care about each other, screaming their love to the sky. As the lights dimmed, I couldn’t help but notice #14’s — Megan’s — mom, played by Rose Palmieri ʼ24, in the corner, holding a Ziploc bag of orange slices, wrenching her hands in grief.
One of the actors reported seeing almost the entire Swarthmore women’s soccer team in the audience on opening night and commented on their emotional reactions to the twists and turns of the play’s second half. Jacinta Fernandes-Brough ’24, who plays on the soccer team, added that the company of “The Wolves” came to see a real soccer team in action and watch them warm up. It is my hope that future Swarthmore productions stick to the precedent “The Wolves” has so lovingly established: finding ways to bring diverse members of our community together in celebration of such talented performing artists. Lizzie Culp ʼ26, as strong-willed team captain #25, said it best: “Teamwork makes the dream work, y’know?”
Disclaimer: though Eva Nahass was a member of “The Wolves” ensemble cast and serves as The Phoenix’s Arts Section editor, they had no input in the contents of the review.