For Lila Neugebauer, the director of Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, the play’s subject matter – high-school girls playing soccer – is not foreign. “I grew up with the sport,” she told me the other day, as we sat in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont. “I was captain of my high-school varsity team and my travel team. Soccer was a huge part of my identity formation as a young person.”
Other roots of her profession: an urban childhood. “As a New York City kid,” Neugebauer said, “I grew up with exposure to the arts. I think of New York as a city in which culture matters, an idea that has undeniably fed whatever conviction I might have that conscious, engaged creative output can be an extension of citizenship.”
Still another aspect of her background that relates to her profession: “I’m the child of a psychotherapist, so human behavior was relentlessly discussed in our apartment. Since I was young, I’ve been curious about how our psychological framework dictates what we’ll do to get what we want -- which is of course central to dramatic action.”
If Neugebauer, who went to Yale, is able to point out the differences between her own upbringing and that of the all-female personae in The Wolves -- “The girls on this team are suburban, and not my generation” – she is also quick to point out the similarities. “The premise of their bonds is uncannily specific and familiar to me in every micro-moment of the play.”
And what is that premise? “At the heart of this play is a tribal kind of love forged through shared experience. When you go through certain rites of passage collectively, the bonds run deep. And that’s not only a female experience; it’s a human experience.”
More gender-specific is the fact of the play itself. “It’s still a relative rarity,” Neugebauer said, “to encounter a narrative landscape populated exclusively by female bodies that are not contextualized by their relationship to a male subject.”
The Wolves was performed last year to great acclaim at the Duke on 42nd Street theater. How will it adapt to LCT’s Mitzi E. Newhouse space? “We’re doing the play in a different physical configuration,” answered Neugebauer, who over the past few years has creatively staged several productions at New York’s Signature Theater. “The Wolves was done previously in an alley configuration, which suggested the two sides of the field from which spectators watch the game.” She added: “The Newhouse is a beautifully unconventional thrust. We have an opportunity for the production to be even more physically virtuosic. There is more volume to occupy and there are more ways to come and go.”
The Wolves requires very precise blocking. “If you have nine people doing exactly the same thing at the same time,” the director said, “the kinesthetic dynamics have to be carefully calibrated.”
The scheduling of The Wolves at LCT also required precision. It is in rehearsal while After the Blast, a new play by Zoe Kazan, which has also been directed by Neugebauer, is in previews at LCT’s Claire Tow Theater.
Neugebauer doesn’t see working on both productions simultaneously as a burden. “I’m energized by it,” she said. She expressed her enthusiasm with reference to Kazan’s play, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape. “At the end of the play, the protagonist describes the images she’ll give to a child, images she’s only read about in books. She describes a lost world in which, gathered in open-air communal spaces, ‘we were embarrassingly rich and didn’t even know it.’ These days, when I walk out of the theater and see people congregating outside that Lincoln Center fountain, I find myself thinking of those words.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.