Teenagers address many challenging topics with wide-ranging relevance

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Mandel, Limelight Members of “The Wolves” soccer team discuss real life issues on stage at Limelight Theater

By Calvin Nuttall

An audacious and unapologetic theatrical experience will hustle onto the field at the Limelight Theater in downtown Gilroy. “The Wolves” follows a girls’ indoor soccer team as they prepare to take on their opponents — as well as the many challenges of life.

Set over the course of their five-week soccer season, this realistic drama (a Pulitzer Prize finalist written by Sarah DeLapp) gives the audience only brief glimpses of the players’ lives. During their weekly warmups before each game, the girls discuss every kind of issue imaginable, from deeply personal to globally significant. Meanwhile, the audience is left to read between the lines to piece together what has happened off-stage between the practices.

“It’s very real,” said Emily Shem-Tov, Limelight managing director. “There is adult language and adult situations. It’s a real slice of life, as if you were out at a soccer practice with a gang of people. When we’re listening to these young women rehearse, they talk just like that. I love how they go from the very personal to world-shaking topics all at once, because everything is important and interconnected when you’re that age.”

With an all-female cast featuring one adult soccer mom and nine teenage athletes, “The Wolves” has universal appeal that will be relatable for all ages, said Carol Harris, the director.

“This play will bring back experiences for everybody,” she said. “One of my favorite things about theater is, if a performance brings back to you some experience that you’ve had in your life, it really will touch you. And I can’t think of one person who won’t relate to what these characters experience.”

The players, who are only referred to using their jersey numbers, unapologetically address contemporary and adult topics ranging from global terrorism to menstruation.

“It can be tough at times, because, yes, they talk about some subjects that may be uncomfortable for some,” said Riley Brown, who plays “No. 7,” the archetypal too-cool-for-school “bad girl” of the team. “It is very extreme realism. It is a group of teenage girls talking about real-life subjects and having real drama with each other and cracking jokes and having friendships. Some topics might be uncomfortable but are important to talk about.”

The format of each scene is intended to be as close to an organic experience as possible, Harris said. The players kick the ball around as they run through their warm-up drills, maintaining multiple concurrent conversations.

“The author doesn’t want everybody in the audience to hear every conversation happening onstage,” she said. “There are sometimes three groups talking at once about different topics. That is what she wanted. Try to listen to a group of teenagers — do you really understand everything that they’re talking about?”

The Limelight crew arranged the “stage” in a unique way. The audience sits around three sides of the set, which consists of artificial grass directly on the floor. This lets actresses be on the audience level.

“It is very immersive,” Brown said. “You’re going to say, ‘I am a part of this team now.’ It’s so real and so relatable that I think there is at least one part or another that anyone, no matter their demographic, can relate to.”

Between the up-close-and-personal staging and the organic chaos of the overlapping dialogue, “The Wolves” promises to surprise and delight theater regulars with a completely unique viewing experience, said Allie Purtel, aka “No. 14.”

“I’d never seen anything like this before,” she said. “I think people are going to be at first very shocked and surprised, but then they’re going to be glad that these topics are being discussed. The word I always use is ‘experimental.’”

Ultimately, “The Wolves” is not merely a story about a soccer team, it is an examination of friendship, teamwork and what it is like coming of age as a young woman in America. The challenges they face are as real and layered as what most young people experience every day.

“I don’t think everybody is going to come out of the show with one overriding message,” Shem-Tov said. “It’s something that people will leave talking about and wondering about. It’s a discussion-starter show, and I think it’s open-ended enough that I expect audiences will be very engaged.”

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter and columnist.