Content warning: This article contains mention of eating disorders.
The phrase “WE ARE THE WOLVES,” written all over the back wall, expands through the room.
A group of girls in soccer uniforms sit on Astroturf, chattering as they engage in synchronized stretches. One talks about a Cambodian dictator, while another talks about her period. Immediately, we are taken into the rapid-fire collisions of their internal and external worlds.
“The Wolves,” written by playwright Sarah DeLappe, premiered off-Broadway in 2016. It circles around 10 teenage girls who are part of an American indoor soccer team. Through the play, they navigate their unique set of challenges and identities from their place of privilege in a disconnected suburbia.
Adapted and directed by Sarah Swiderski (22C) and dramaturg Valeria Pacheco (23C) and presented by student theater group Dooley’s Players, the play ran Oct. 20-22 and Oct. 27-29 at the Burlington Road Building. The team consisted of #00 (Ali Barlow (24C)), #2 (Erin Devine (25C)), #46 (Sofía Abarca (25C)), #7 (Josie Maier (24C)), #8 (Sofia Freedman (25C)), #11 (Madison Borman (21ox, 23C)), #13 (Amanda Przygonska (21ox, 23C)), #14 (Emi Fernandez (24C)), #25 (Sophia Tufariello (23C)) and Soccer Mom (Vex Hutton(24C)).
Physical movement is an integral part of this play: Instead of a traditional plot, their perfectly coordinated warm-up leads the conversation from one topic to the next, driving the story forward. Conflicts and debates coexist with playful banter in the close-knit circle formation — a reminder that these issues are cyclical. Through conversations, characters slowly reveal themselves, deepening our understanding of the group’s dynamic.
For Swiderski, it was important to work on a play about teenage girls — whose representation she feels is not taken seriously or treated with enough nuance in literature and media.
Swiderski said that DeLappe viewed the language of teenage girls as a type of music, writing dialogue that intentionally overlaps to reflect their natural speech. Treating each character like a different instrument, the cast rehearsed their lines with a metronome, starting off slowly and then gradually increasing their pace.
“I was interested in ‘The Wolves’ specifically because of how it traces world events and how these young women who are in positions of privilege talk about the Cambodian genocide and the border crisis and detainment camps in America in a way that is so separate from where they are on a soccer field in a suburb,” Swiderski said.
Swiderski connected this separation to the way that Emory’s students “come from positions of privilege where they can stop thinking about events when they put down their phone.”
At times, it was uncomfortable listening to the conversations, the audience hoping that the characters, even through their ignorance, were just being sarcastic.
In her dramaturgical note, Pacheco agreed.
“At many points while reading this script, the cast awkwardly laughed or uncomfortably jerked back at lines,” Pacheco wrote. “Are we really supposed to say this? In short, yes. Teenage girls can be very insensitive.”
Yet this too is perhaps an act of resistance against the traditional portrayal of young girls in the media. Here, they are bold, unafraid and subject to no authority that will tell them to shut up. They actively take up both physical and metaphorical space in a male-dominated playing field.
The characters personally deal with heavy topics, such as eating disorders, abortion, sexuality and racism. Our image of these characters as privileged is then complicated by the undercurrent conflict just below the surface: the pressure of gender roles and patriarchy. How does this fact exist in tandem with their privilege? That is what makes “The Wolves” so compelling — the conviction that many things can exist at once.
Referring to the characters by their numbers makes their stories universal while also recognizing each as distinct and personal.
Swiderski highlighted the disparity of pay among the U.S. women’s soccer team (USWNT) and the men’s team. Despite the women’s team having won four World Cups to the men’s team’s zero, equal pay was only attained in February 2022. This fact was important to adding to her considerations of competition and coming of age among young girls.
The soccer game served as a metaphor for the battle of life and wolves as a metaphor for the rage lying beneath the surface, the ferocity that teenage girls must embody in order to protect themselves.
“It’s a weighted and melancholic metaphor because these young women — in order to be taken seriously — need to embody such a height of masculinity or competition,” Swiderski said. “I think female competition is extremely cutthroat.”
About midway through the play, the team poses with orange peel smiles. These orange slices — my favorite part of the play — appear a few times, each time with different symbolism. At first, the oranges create distance between players.
“I don’t get it,” #46 said, on the verge of tears, when the girls pose with orange slices in their mouths, giggling hysterically. #2, a character with a binge eating disorder, was repeatedly asked to put one in her mouth even though she is uncomfortable. In one difficult and moving scene, #2 eats orange slice after orange slice in an attempt to regain a sense of comfort.
Later, when #2 finally relents and adopts the orange slice smile, #8 takes her hand and leads her to join the rest of the girls who stand with their identical orange slice smiles in a line of solidarity. Here, she bridges the distance, breaks down the wall and gains acceptance. In a circular fashion, the oranges make an appearance in the final scene where they become a symbol of unity.
“By the end, it’s a return to the structure of the play in some way which has been so drastically broken,” Swiderski said.
To get to that state, the girls faced not only their internal struggles, but also the effects of a tragic event. Slowly, the orange began to unpeel. Each member of the cast painted
an intimate portrait of their character, enacting difficult moments with great sensitivity.
The final scene ended with a fierce and powerful chant — nine times for each of the wolves. They came together in a group hug easily, bonded by their shared trauma and collective growth.
“The Wolves” reminds us to look beyond our internal selves and to recognize the layers whirring within each other.
“As college students and just as people, we tend to get really preoccupied with what’s right in front of us … when in fact everything is an intricate spider web net of butterfly effects and microcosms,” Swiderski said. “Whether we see the world outside of Atlanta, or Emory, or the United States, it exists, and our decisions have effects that we can’t fully see.”