When Sharon Ott came to Virginia Commonwealth University as its new theater chairwoman last fall, she knew the first show she wanted to produce: Sarah DeLappe's "The Wolves."
The 2016 play, a Pulitzer finalist, follows a girls' indoor soccer team as they discuss, life, love and the Khmer Rouge. After waiting a year to secure the rights to the show, Ott will present "The Wolves" in a co-production of VCU and Cadence Theatre Company over the next two weeks.
"It's just a great play," explains Ott, who directors the show. "It's got a great tragicomedy sense to it."
Taking place over the course of several team practices, the play concerns nine teenage soccer players as they converse freely about boyfriends, body shapes, menstrual cycles and snake-handling rituals. Through these overlapping conversations, the teens clash and assert their identities in what one critic described as "a stream of exploding hormones."
Ott appreciates that DeLappe's script focuses on young women in competition, instead of having women as secondary characters in a male-centric piece.
"She has a great sense of how young women talk to each other, and women's competitive spirit," Ott says. "[The play] develops slowly and carefully."
She adds that staging "The Wolves" at a college versus a professional theater makes sense.
"Colleges, quite frankly, do some of the best productions because the class members are close to the age of the characters," she says. "It's a perfect piece for young actresses like we have, because they need to be believably in high school."
In addition to a regular acting audition, the actresses in the show underwent a soccer audition prior to being cast; the latter was assisted by Virginia Repertory Theatre's artistic director, Nathaniel Shaw, a former competitive youth soccer player.
"The ensemble has to be at least passably good at soccer, because we need to believe that they're a championship team," Ott says. "It's very, very athletic. Almost all the scenes are in motion, with everybody doing soccer movement."
After being cast, the actresses trained over the summer with aid from Tyler Schatz, assistant coach for VCU's women's soccer team. Leading up to the show's opening, the cast conducted a 45-minute soccer drill as part of each rehearsal.
"It was a bit of a journey, because I have never really played soccer before," says Jocelyn Honore, a 21-year-old senior who plays Alex – or No. 7 – in the show. "We had to learn a lot."
A sarcastic, foul-mouthed 16-year-old striker, No. 7 is described as "too cool for school."
"She's very brash and abrasive and self-assured," says Honore of her character. "I love her confidence."
Havy Nguyen, a 21-year-old junior who plays No. 25, enthusiastically notes that the entire cast and crew for the show is female.
"In my time at VCU, we've never done something like this," she says. "This is probably the most special show that I've worked on, in terms of the environment. Just being in the room with so many inspiring women can pull out so much creativity."
Among other attributes, Nguyen enjoys the fact that the focus is on teenagers.
"You're always looking at adults to lead the group," Nguyen says. "I can't hone in enough on how teenagers have the power to make a difference."
The captain of the team, No. 25 is the daughter of the former head coach, driven to succeed.
"Her life has revolved around soccer so long that she hasn't been able to find herself as a person," Nguyen says. "Now she's deciding to step out and be who she is."
She says the show is relatable and relevant to any audience.
"It's just very empowering for women, but it also makes you think you [about] being grateful for what you have," Nguyen says. "Everything that is said, the way the girls talk, it's so relevant because it's what we're going through today."
TheatreVCU and Cadence Theatre Company's "The Wolves" plays Sept. 27-Oct. 7 at the Raymond Hodges Theatre, 922 Park Ave. For information, visit arts.vcu.edu/theatre.