Here’s something Harriet Owen-Nixon wants you to know about “The Wolves,” a play about a girls’ high school soccer team:
“The show is not about soccer,” Owen-Nixon said in an interview before “The Wolves” opens Friday night at the Majestic Theatre for the first of six performances.
“It is about real life, and experiences and people and humans and interaction,” she said. “It explores so many different things.”
Here’s something else Owen-Nixon wants you to know about Sarah DeLappe’s play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2017: The play captures the way real teenage girls talk. It’s not always pretty.
“It’s a little shocking,” Owen-Nixon said. But she added: “This is how kids talk, whether you like it or not. … This is how they communicate with each other.”
In fact, it was the way DeLappe captures those teenage voices that first fueled Owen-Nixon’s desire to stage the play.
Intrigued by the rave reviews “The Wolves” received from New York critics, she read the play.
As she read, she said, “I started recognizing these characters as real people.” In fact, she knew people similar to the characters in the play: A niece had played soccer in school (she won a soccer scholarship to the Colorado School of Mines), and so Owen-Nixon had spent time around girl soccer players. As she read the play, she was listening for false notes.
She didn’t hear any.
Every character in the play, Owen-Nixon said, “had their own personality, their own desires, their own trials, their own loves and it was really fascinating to see this true, true slice-of-life play. I had never read anything like it before.”
“The Wolves” is set in an indoor soccer facility. Each scene shows the nine members of the Wolves conversing while they warm up for that week’s game. The girls share gossip as they talk, of course, but that’s not all: In the first scene of the play, one of the conversations is about the genocide in Cambodia.
Again, that sounded right to Owen-Nixon: “If people really spent time listening to how teenagers talk amongst themselves, and the topics they talk about, they might be shocked, because there are real topics here, real serious topics.”
The conversations overlap, like the dialogue in a Robert Altman movie, and that presented a challenge to Owen-Nixon. She recalled an early reading of the play she held with mid-valley theater veterans, and as the experienced actors waited for others to finish their lines, the overlapping dialogue sounded stilted.
“But I’m very lucky to be working with young minds that are pliable, and very good at overlapping,” she said – and, with careful blocking and rehearsal, the cast worked it out.
Another challenge for Owen-Nixon came with casting the play: In addition to being able to act, the actors needed real soccer skills. The play includes scripted drills that the actors must perform while they’re speaking their lines. Rehearsals included work with a soccer coach, Laura Hoffman – and the set features artificial turf on the stage.
The drills come with yet another risk: It’s possible that a soccer ball might go zipping into the audience.
Audience members will want to toss the ball back. Owen-Nixon’s instructions to her cast: “Don’t break character, just say ‘thank you,’ like you would to someone watching, a bystander.”
During the rehearsals for the show, Owen-Nixon said, she was struck by the “camaraderie of the cast, how well, how much they communicate with each other when we’re not rehearsing.”
And as she listened to those offstage conversations, she was struck, again and again, by how similar they were to the onstage dialogue in the play – testimony, she said, to the authentic voices DeLappe has captured in the play.
“That just shows,” Owen-Nixon said, “that Sarah deLappe has written an amazing piece of work that is true.”
If You Go
WHAT: “The Wolves,” by Sarah deLappe.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Jan. 20-22 and Friday through Sunday, Jan. 27-29. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m. Sunday shows are at 2:30 p.m. A talkback session is scheduled after the Sunday, Jan. 22 performance.
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $16 for adults, $14 for students and seniors. You can buy tickets by clicking here.
WHERE: The Majestic Theatre, 115 SW Second St. in Corvallis.
OF NOTE: “The Wolves” features profanity, mature themes and adult language, including discussions about sex, politics, abortion, eating disorders and death – but, of course, teenagers never would talk about those topics among themselves. The Majestic has slapped the show with a PG-13 rating, meaning it’s suitable for mature teenagers.