The Wolves slide-tackles female rage, coming of age and the epic highs and lows of high school soccer

The Wolves make their entrance onto the turf which carpets the Telus Studio Theatre to blaring girl power pop and strobe lights. The fact that they’re a teenage girls’ soccer team, not a literal pack of beasts, does not make them any less predacious. The play is an intense and skillful statement on the pressures that young women in the arena of elite sports place on each other, and themselves, to belong.

Upper-year UBC Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) Theatre students opened their new play The Wolves, written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Leora Morris, on February 2. The play follows an indoor soccer team (the titular Wolves) as they navigate athletic young adulthood — from tampons and torn ACLs to the deeper tragedies that change a community forever.

The team is already tight-knit when the play starts, with 13 years of shared memories of wins, losses and half-time orange slices. When a new girl enters the mix with the social stumbles of the chronically homeschooled (played brilliantly by fourth-year BFA student Adriana McKinnon), her discomfort as an outsider throws the rest of the team’s intimacy into sharp relief.

Like many grade 11 friend groups, they are really fucking mean to each other. Every joke has an edge. As they warm up for the game, they careen from discussing genocides that they learn about in private school social studies class to carefully avoiding discussing a teammates’ rumoured abortion.

Throughout the play, they never stop moving. By punctuating the dialogue with soccer drills and warmups (observed from the UBC women’s soccer team and blocked by the director), UBC’s cast gives the play a vibrant dynamism that perfectly captures the fever pitch of being 16 and desperate to be liked, to conform, to win.

The entire play takes place in an indoor soccer complex in the tense moments before and after the Wolves’ games. Piercing buzzers interrupt the dialogue to signal game time. United by a common enemy, their camaraderie overtakes their conflicts, and their individual insecurities simmer to a low hum. The whistle blows, and the girls become wolves.

The characters are militaristically referred to only by their jersey numbers. The girls are cogs in a machine designed to select only the best for coveted spots on college teams. But, the numbers also add up into a more seamless whole. The cast best channels this conditional unity through the team’s pre-game chant — arms around each others’ shoulders, howling into the rafters of the theatre until they collapse onto the turf.

I spent some of the most formative years of my life on the synthetic turf of fields just like this one — first as a player, shivering with nerves under fluorescent lights, then as a coach and referee. I spent hundreds of hours going through the same motions as the Wolves, engaged in the same hurtful and hilarious conversations. The nostalgic chill I felt at the sound of the game time buzzer speaks to the authenticity of UBC’s production.

I’ve also seen this play before. In 2018, as a 16-year-old still steeped in a similar environment The Wolves describes, I cried the first time I saw it. I cried again this time for a different reason.

Our culture devours teen girl drama and trauma, from Euphoria to, obviously, Mean Girls. Rarer though do we see young women played believably to their age, as UBC’s cast of The Wolves do. The grief and tenderness and rage of young adulthood in a feminized body is rarely taken seriously as something worthy of making good art about. So in The Wolves, it’s a painful relief to see the awkwardness, fumbling kindness and brutality they enact on each other and on themselves. It’s a relief to see my memories of how that time felt reflected back. I am also so glad that time is over.

The Wolves runs until February 11. Tickets are available here.