With shows like “Mean Girls,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Clueless,” stories about the lives of teenagers have become recent hits on Broadway.
“The Wolves,” a play by Sarah DeLappe, follows in that spirit, uniquely sharing the stories of today’s youth. A finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the play had a sold-out run in New York and is set to return to off-Broadway for a limited run at Lincoln Center Theatre.
This month, “The Wolves” also will be making its regional debut—at Open Stage of Harrisburg.
“I think that it’s important to bring new works to our community,” said Director Rachel Landon. “Not every theater gets the opportunity to do that. I’m excited to bring this to central Pennsylvania.”
Told entirely through conversations with an all-female cast, “The Wolves” follows nine teenagers who are on the same soccer team in a suburban town. The story follows team members as they chat prior to games and practices and includes fast-paced dialogue and soccer drills.
Landon said that she has never read a play like “The Wolves” before, written naturally and truthfully. Benny Benemati, who portrays player #25, the team captain, agrees that the play is full of true-to-life conversation.
“In rehearsal, we find ourselves talking to each other and finding we’re having similar conversations to what was written in the play,” said Benemati. “It’s amazing to read a script and feel so much emotion behind it even before putting it up on a stage.”
While it may seem as though there is a sudden focus on teenagers, every generation has put forth studies on the youth of that time. The plays of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, as well as musicals like “Hair,” “Fame” and “Hairspray,” all tell stories of how teenagers are emotionally and socially reacting to what is happening in their lives.
“Every generation has a play like this, and ‘The Wolves’ is one of the best, if not the best, I have read in the last 20 years,” said Landon.
In part, “The Wolves” is different from shows with a similar theme because the story does not focus on one specific character and what they are going through. The play follows all of the girls as they live their lives day to day, encountering struggles large and small.
“It’s also not a musical, so the focus is on the words themselves rather than building up emotion and releasing it in a showstopping number,” said Benemati. “Our emotional releases happen in pregnant pauses, when the lights go out. It doesn’t happen with, ‘Let’s sing a song about how we’re feeling.’ We have to convey these emotions directly to the audience, which, in some ways, makes it more raw.”
Erin Shellenberger, who portrays #46 or the “new girl” on the team, appreciates that the play is written with authentic and fresh portrayals of teenage girls, deviating from expected stereotypes. With the invention of the internet, cell phones and social media, teens have had to grow up a lot faster and in a different way than previous generations. “The Wolves” captures these nuances.
“It’s not that kids in previous generations didn’t deal with alcohol or sex or mass shootings,” said Shellenberger. “It just wasn’t blasted on social media the way it is. Everything is publicized on social media constantly. I never saw anything like this when I was younger, and I wish I had. Seeing people talk through the issues in real time and live their lives on stage is so intimate and real.”
Landon feels that a generation gap can result in writing off stories such as “The Wolves” about young people coming of age, especially as negative stereotypes surround generations like the millennials.
“We don’t really realize how rich their lives are, how intelligent they are, how sharp they are, and how they perceive the world,” said Landon. “We say, ‘Oh, they’re 17, they don’t understand the world.’ They absolutely do and appreciate it in a different way.”
The realism of the play is one of its greatest draws, whether the audience member is a teenager, parent, grandparent or just someone interested in innovative theater.
“It’s in the slight extremes of life you see in these characters that make them even more realistic to the play as a whole,” added Benemati. “All walks of life come together in this one show, and it’s very easy to watch it and go, ‘Oh, that’s me’ or, ‘I know that person.’ It can even be difficult to find the line between where the play starts and life begins.”
The cast of “The Wolves” also includes Katherine Campbell, Lisa Haywood, Vanessa Marie Hofer, Kalina Jenkins, Carly Lafferty, Hailey Lockner, Maura McErlean and Lidi Nyambi.
“The Wolves” runs Feb. 16 to March 3 at Open Stage of Harrisburg, 25 N. Court St., Harrisburg. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.openstagehbg.com or call 717-232-6736.
Upcoming Theater Events
At Open Stage of Harrisburg
Modern, award-winning comedy-drama about a teenage girl’s soccer team
Feb. 16 to March 3
Cabaret Brunch and Season 34 Announcement
Saturday, March 2
12 p.m. to 3 p.m.