Friday, February 1, 2019

The Wolves Remains a Hit

Is anyone in #tctheater having a better year than Sarah Rasmussen? 

Photo by Dan Norman

Named the Star Tribune's 2018 Artist of the Year, Rasmussen must be flying on a cloud. The Jungle Theater has produced hit after sold out hit since she took the helm in 2015, and her fresh, female-forward perspective is boldly changing the kind of stories and the way those stories are told on #tctheater stages beyond her queendom in Uptown.

Thanks to this success, the Jungle now has two stages running concurrently for the first time ever! On their marquis space on Lyndale is The Children (which I reviewed a few weeks ago - click here for the link). Last night The Wolves, an immediate sell-out and the Twin Cities Theater Blogger's pick for best ensemble performance in 2018, re-opened at the Southern Theater on Seven Corners. I was one of the few unlucky souls who didn't manage to snag a ticket to last year's performance, so I was thrilled to get the chance to check it out this year. Spoiler alert: it was completely worth the wait.

Photo by Dan Norman

The Wolves is a true ensemble drama, depicting the pre-game chatter of a team of high school-aged soccer players as they stretch and warm up before their games. We hear them talk about tampons vs. pads; sneaking out to drink at parties; deeply debate the subject matter in their history homework assignments (Pol Pot vs. Hitler makes an appearance); struggle to feel seen and included; absorb a "new girl" who moves late into their tight knit circle; gossip about shared acquaintances; strategize how to beat their next opponent; support each other after their friends and family members die; and so much more. In short, it's the entirety of teenage girl's experiences told exclusively by teenaged girl characters, distilled into a zippy 95 minute drama that instantly captivated the audience.

Photo by Dan Norman

I think The Wolves is the perfect harbinger of the Jungle's success under Sarah Rasmussen, and let me tell you why: this show felt so organic, so natural in the flow of the season, and is so perfectly cast and produced, that you don't even realize how revolutionary it is. The Wolves moved me deeply despite the seemingly banal nature of its subject matter because I've never seen such an honest depiction of a teen girl's experience on stage. Obviously what The Wolves portrays is not an exact avatar for all teen girls' lives - there are always shades in everyone's experience of the world and the experiences collected here don't cross every race / sexuality / economic line - but overall it allows a frankness that isn't often allowed to women at all, let alone girls in their teenage years. Teens experience things like death or serious illness or injury all the time, but due to their young age it's often assumed that they are unaffected or don't understand the severity of such events. The experience boys have in puberty are infamously portrayed in all sorts of shows, from wet dreams to having sex with pies, to sneaking dirty magazines - but how often do you hear a tampon thrown around in casual conversation? Or using Plan B? It's revolutionary content because it is so commonly ignored, and bravo to Sarah Delappe for a fabulous script that unveils the layers of this experience in a way that all audience members (including the men, of which there were many), can relate to.

Photo by Dan Norman

Part of the success of The Wolves is also due to its tightly knit ensemble actors. All of this dynamic, spicy young cast has gone on to great things in other shows; just look at this lineup!

  • Chloe Armao, who was part of the Guthrie's thoughtful Trouble in Mind
  • Megan Burns, part of the stunning production of Little Women at the Jungle as well as shows with Mixed Blood, Theater Latte Da and other of my local favorite companies
  • Michelle de Joya, who has delighted in several Mu Performing Arts productions including Flower Drum Song and Tot: the untold (yet spectacular) Story of a Filipino Hulk Hogan
  • Becca Hart, who jumped into leading roles in Mary Poppins and Into the Woods after this performance
  • McKenna Kelly-Eiding, who starred as Sherlock Holmes in Baskerville at Park Square Theatre, one of my favorite shows of last year
  • Isabella Star Lablanc, also a standout in Little Women and who is breaking new ground as a Native American artist on stages and on film across the country
  • And a host of up and coming young actresses who are certain to become well known, including Rosey Lowe, Shelby Rose Richardson, Meredith Casey, all of whom are backed up by local legend Jennifer Blagen

It was such a pleasure to watch them all engage in a public form of sisterhood, and I hope their impressive collaboration here allows for more shows with multiple women (hello Bechdel test!) on stages across the Twin Cities. This is a show that is clearly made by women, starring women, for women, and I can't express enough how meaningful that experience was for me. I am so glad the Jungle decided to re-mount this excellent production, and if you didn't get a chance to see it the first time around it absolutely deserves a look. The run goes through February 17 and if last night's packed stage (despite the polar vortex) is any indication, you'll want to snap up your tickets immediately because this one is sure to sell out again. For more information about the dynamic, the powerful, the incredible play The Wolves, click here to see more and to buy those tickets.

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