Teenage girls talk freely in ‘The Wolves’

Soccer skills aren’t usually a requirement for actors. In fact, most of us have probably observed the natural separation of “jocks” and “theater rats” — a bit like oil and water. But the Middlebury College Department of Theater and Dance is intentionally mixing it up by bringing actors into the field house and soccer balls onto the stage with their spring production, “The Wolves” by Sarah DeLappe.
Assistant professor Michole Biancosino is directing the cast of nine female students for this performance.
“This play is about a competitive high school soccer team and the relationships on a high-performing team,” explained Biancosino, who recently moved here — from Brooklyn, N.Y., where she co-founded the award-winning Project Y Theatre Company — to come teach at her alma mater. “It’s tricky and unique to give the stage to a group of teen girls without any judgment of private moments.”
The nine players on this indoor team have no names (only numbers). Chattering lines about their lives overlap and mix, muddling a straightforward narrative. Topics range from dates to sleepovers, and gradually unfold to reveal deeper truths about each player. DeLappe’s script is careful to give each girl her own voice — no one louder than the other.
“The girls are sussing out one another’s identities, eagerly and suspiciously, like an industriously sniffing, newly formed pack of dogs,” wrote Ben Brantley in his September 2016 review for The New York Times.
Here’s a snapshot of a few characters:
Number 25, played by Emma Zetterberg, is the team captain. “She’s a natural leader,” Zetterberg said. “She is closeted but has a strength to her.”
Number 46, Ursula Alwang, is the new girl. Strange because she’s the only actor who is actually the goalie for the Middlebury College Women’s Varsity Soccer Team. “She doesn’t quite fit in; she experiences a lot of resistance and perseverance,” Alwang said.
Number 14, Zoe Samuels, is number 7’s best friend. “She’s Armenian and an aggressive talker,” Samuels said. “She tries to be like number 7 but the reality is that she has a lot of fears about high school realities for a girl … like boys.”
Number 8, Emily Ballou, is the baby of the team. “She cries a lot,” Ballou said. “She’s constantly in denial and always on the fringe of conversations with an ‘oh, my gosh!’ or a ‘really?’ or a ‘wow!’”
These four student-actors represented their team during an interview with the Independent last month. Other cast members include Middlebury College students Eliza W. Renner, Quincy Simmons, Shannon Gibbs, Rebecca Berlind and Hannah Mohammed Abdelaal.
Together they trained in the Virtue Field House on campus over J-term to learn some basic soccer skills.
“They are just as energetic as a real team,” said Alwang. “We can play a spirited four-v-four.”
“There was a buzz happening,” Biancosino noted at the time. “You could almost hear people working out saying, ‘What are these actors doing here?’ It was an interesting blending of two seemingly separate worlds.”
Not only is this production an experiment in the ways the arts and athletics can both intersect, overlap and create fodder for conversation, but it’s also a piece that stirs emotions about females speaking freely. The cast is entirely female; it does not rely on males or adults.
“When I went to see the show in New York during a matinee,” Biancosino remembered, “there were older people in the audience saying ‘ugh, disgusting!’”
Biancosino asked her friend (who was a member of the cast) how the reactions had been, and she said, “Older men keep yelling that word at us: disgusting.”
“There’s something about young girls talking freely that bothers certain people,” Biancosino said. “That made me excited to pursue this play. It does elicit a response.”
The play debuted in 2016 at The Duke on 42nd Street in New York City and then transferred to Lincoln Center in the fall of 2017. It received the American Playwriting Foundation’s inaugural Relentless Award, the 2017 Obie Award for Ensemble work presented by the American Theatre Wing, and was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Now local audiences can experience the Vermont premiere on Thursday, April 5, and Friday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, April 7, at 2 and 7:30 p.m., in the Seeler Studio Theatre at Middlebury College’s Mahaney Center for the Arts. There will be a post-show talk back immediately following the production on Friday night.
Tickets are $12 for the general public; $10 for Middlebury College faculty, staff, alumni, emeriti, and other ID card holders; and $6 for Middlebury College students. For tickets or information, call (802) 443-MIDD (6433) or visit go.middlebury.edu/arts.
A special free dress rehearsal performance on Wednesday, April 4, 7:15 p.m., is open to all area high school soccer players. After this rehearsal, Peter Kim, the Middlebury College Varsity Women’s soccer team coach, will cohost a talkback with director, Michole Biancosino.

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