Sarah DeLappe's play, "The Wolves," examines the lives of an often underrepresented group in theater — teenage girls.
The one-act play, now running at New York’s Lincoln Center, follows an all-girls soccer team between matches. As they stretch out and prepare for practices and games, the nine teenaged characters discuss everything from the Khmer Rouge to unplanned pregnancies.
"The Wolves" was a finalist this year for the Pulitzer Prize for drama and is winning all sorts of accolades. DeLappe says the origins of the play go all the way back to when she was just nine years old, watching the 1999 Women's World Cup finals at the Rose Bowl — the famous game when Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey after scoring the winning goal.
The Frame host John Horn spoke with DeLappe about "The Wolves" and what it has meant to audiences to see teenaged girls represented in this way on stage.
On whether there's a "through line" from DeLappe watching the Women's World Cup final as a young girl to writing "The Wolves":
I think so ... and I think it's unconscious. And yet, there is a moment in the play that I feel pretty explicitly borrows from that moment — at least visually. Which for me has to do with women being strong in their bodies as opposed to objectifying themselves. And there's something about that moment that did, in a way, feel like a perfect sports movie moment. It's that moment of triumph and it's that moment of excellence.
On her transition from actor to playwright:
I went through this period of really wanting to be an actor and really enjoying acting. But I guess as I got older and was in college and started to see the kind of roles I was cast in — many of which were ingénues, a couple of which involved me with a ring of flowers on my head — I got bored with it. And I also got bored with my level of agency as an actor. You don't have a lot of power over what roles you get cast in.
JOHN HORN: Because of the kind of plays that had been written?
Yes, because of the kind of roles that were available to you. And the way that you have to be comfortable using your body and your image as your talent. And that's what's getting you cast. Which is part of the reason why I came to writing. Also because I think I wanted to create those roles for women. And I wanted to create the world as opposed to being plugged into it.
On the initial inspiration that led to her writing "The Wolves":
The play actually came from language first. I went to this art exhibit that was called "Here and Elsewhere" at the New Museum in the summer of 2014. And there was something about that experience. The art itself was quite political in content. It was a survey of contemporary art from the Middle East and North Africa. And so here was all of this art from Iraqi and Syrian and Lebanese artists. And here were all of these cosmopolitan New Yorkers sort of taking it in. It was art that was coming out of conflict, war and suffering. And there was something about that which was pretty obvious. And yet for me, for some reason, when I was going home on the subway, I started typing this dialogue flow of all these simultaneous conversations, which is how the play starts. And one of the conversations is about the Khmer Rouge, and the other is about the efficacy of tampons or pads on a soccer field. And the play sort of developed from there. I quickly figured out who was saying these things, that they were teenage girls, and that they were on an indoor soccer field.
On the visceral impact of the play on adolescent audiences in particular:
I have had a couple of conversations with teenagers or young adults who have come to see the play, particularly women. I'm remembering one: We did the play last year at New York Stage and Film at Vassar, and this group of high school students came to see the show, so the audience was almost entirely high school students. And they were so viscerally engaged with the performance in a way that most audience members are too jaded to be. But I also think there's something about seeing their experience on stage in a way that isn't patronizing to their experience, and also isn't trying to make them sound like anything other than the way they actually talk. At least that's what a couple of teenage audience members have told me before. That there was something so moving to them about hearing teenage girls speak like teenage girls. The highest compliment I've received on the play is from the mouths of teenage girls. I couldn't ask for anything more.