The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s theatre department kicked off 2023 with the story of a girls’ indoor soccer team in Vilas Hall’s Hemsley Theatre earlier this month.
“The Wolves” took the stage — or field, as the floor and wall were covered in turf — after a two-year suspension due to the pandemic. Originally scheduled for the spring of 2020, the project was finally brought to life again by Director Audrey Standish, a lecturer for UW-Madison’s Department of Theatre and Drama. Returning members include actress Summer Kleppek — who revived the role of #8 — and Edgewood College soccer coach Romaric Setodji who trained the team of actresses, most of whom had never played soccer before.
The dramatic play, written by Sarah DeLappe, follows the lives of nine girls in their junior year of high school playing their winter season of soccer. The story only spans six weeks, but in that time the audience — positioned as if in the stands of a stadium — watches and remembers as the team plays through the hardest game — life. Discussing everything from love to death, it is not difficult to recall similar conversations from one’s days with their high school team.
A few minutes into the performance, one forgets the actresses on stage are not really having these conversations. Constantly moving, talking over one another and listening for cues, it is difficult to imagine how much the actresses had to practice to accomplish this level of fluidity.
A personal favorite aspect of the show was the attention to detail in costuming. Costume Designer Jiaming Xie not only created realistic kits for each player, but paid special attention to when characters were straying from their comfort zones or trying to blend in — down to the type of hairstyle accessories they donned, such as #14’s orange headband denoting her separation from her former best friend #7.
The only moment where the play took a departure from a strictly realistic portrayal was in the scene “Time Out” where the lighting and sound became an external reflection of #00’s internal struggle. This is also the scene that disrupts the never-ending dialogue with total silence, but for the sound of a single heartbeat. This moment requires the audience to slow down — as any time out does — and simply watch #00, played by Paige Gruener, live out what it feels like to be trapped in her experience of reality.
Assistant Director Grant Borcherding said the goal of the show is to remind the audience that “Life is ugly, life gets weird, life gets tough, but you have a team behind you.”
Borcherding, a junior undergraduate student pursuing a major in Spanish and a certificate in theatre, is not new to the stage. With prior experience as assistant director at Madison’s East High School, Borcherding expressed excitement in taking the next step with a university level show, even blocking the “Time Out” scene by himself.
Borcherding believes the script was the most difficult part of the show to work with. With 132 pages of dialogue squeezed into 90 minutes, the pace and intensity is a lot to keep up with to maintain its realism. With so much detail, it is a show you can see multiple times and still find something new from due to the nature of the overlapping “chorus” of lines.
“That's one of the hardest scripts I've ever seen. I mean, I've done Shakespeare, and that's another type of animal, but this is hyperrealism. It's dense. I love it. There's so many details that you miss the first time around,” said Borcherding.
Just like real life, this show has comedy but also contains heavy themes. Use of mature language as well as discussions of abortion, sexual content and violent events occur. Since these themes played a prominent role, the direction team and actresses had many open conversations about the difficulty of the material.
Natalie Matthai, who played #7 in the show, said it was the emotional arc — not learning the sport of soccer — that has been the most difficult.
“To bring myself to that level and try to get myself to live in that world, that's a tough challenge for me, but I'm really enjoying it so far,” said Matthai.
#13, Sophia Schmidt, agreed that the content of the script makes the show realistic, yet also challenging.
“I definitely feel emotionally exhausted at the end of the play because I go through such a wide range of emotions,” said Schmidt. “It's like, complete high and low, but I like it because I think it brings depth to the character.”
Though the show has intense themes, Anna Bogan, #11, hoped the discussion does not stop as viewers leave the theater. .
“Reflect on who you were as a young adult, adolescent, going through high school, and just think about the hardships that this group is going through at this time, have empathy for that. We've gone through it too,” said Bogan.
If you want to catch the game this weekend, you have a shot! The team plays their final matches this Feb. 23-26, with a double header on Saturday. Tickets are limited, so score them while you can at Campus Arts Ticketing.