The Wolves ends its LCT run this Sunday and it suddenly dawned on me: I had not yet had the chance to chat with two of its ten cast members: Midori Francis, who plays #8, and Sarah Mezzanotte, who plays #2. Each began my separate interviews with them by expressing amazement and gratitude that The Wolves experience has lasted so long: a year-and-a-half.
“After being cast, I began the journey on the train to Poughkeepsie,” Francis said, “where we did the first professional version at Vassar/New York Stage and Film. I had no idea that this literal journey would be part of a journey in so many other ways.”
“My mom drove me up to Vassar,” Mezzanotte recalled, “from the area in Pennsylvania where I grew up. I remember thinking: I hope I get along with everybody – anybody. Within 24 hours we had already begun to relax into what would be a transformative experience.”
The bonding has only deepened, Mezzanotte added. “One of the most frequent questions I get is: ‘Do you fight backstage?’ There’s something very sexist about that assumption, although I also get the opposite question a lot: ‘Are you all best friends?’”
“We may have a little bickering,” Francis said, “but that can be helpful to the work – The Wolves is not a play about nine girls who love each other in ‘Brady Bunch’ fashion. The important thing is that we all have each others’ backs and that we all truly enjoy each other.”
“I think of us as family,” Mezzanotte continued. “But not necessarily as sisters. I grew up with two sisters and our backstage dynamic can be more brotherly: fake fighting, physical clowning around. It makes sense, since we’re in a play about sports. At the same time, the play is showing us that women can also be warriors.”
Francis, who grew up in New Jersey and studied acting at Rutgers, compared her own high-school experience to that of her character. “Number 8 is filled the wonder and joy of a child. I can relate to that, because in high school I wanted nothing to do with drinking or rebelling. That happened much later.” She added: “My character provides comic relief, partly to cover over a deep wound: her mother died when she was 10.”
Francis’s own childhood was filled with family. “One of my grandmas lived on a farm. My other grandparents spoke Japanese and cooked Japanese food. I was exposed to many different ways of living.”
Growing up, Francis played soccer only once, in pre-school. (She scored a goal!) She was always involved in school shows and community theater. “I did not pursue athletics, but I really love soccer now: ‘The Wolves’ has given me a chance to activate my athletic bone.”
Mezzanotte also did theater in high school. “My drama teacher really pushed me to pursue acting at NYU, but I thought it was unrealistic, so I was going to go instead to the honor college at Penn State.” Shortly before the NYU audition deadline, Mezzanotte’s mom sat her down. Her daughter remembered: “She said, ‘You’ll never be 18 again and have a chance to follow your dreams.’ She drove me up to the audition for NYU. I was sitting in the waiting room, feeling pretty inexperienced. Meanwhile, there was one kid in the corner doing weird vocal warm-ups, and another one rolling around on the floor pretending to be various animals. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.”
Like all The Wolves cast members, Francis spoke about the physical demands of the show. “It takes a lot out of you. You’re drained every night, and really drained at the end of the week. But the exhaustion is your body telling you to take care of yourself. And doing the play really stimulates you mentally. By the time I leave the theater at night, my brain is super-sharp.”
For Mezzanotte, the physical demands have had another component. Her character has an eating disorder, which is memorably illustrated during a solo scene involving oranges. “Some of the audience reactions to that – certain kinds of laughter – have been difficult to process when I go offstage,” Mezzanotte remembered. “It’s such a vulnerable moment for me, in part because I myself have struggled with an eating disorder.”
She added: “Doing this play has taught me so many lessons, among them: you can use personal stuff, but you can’t take all audience reactions personally.”
And what has Francis learned? “So, so much,” she answered. “It’s been such a privilege to work with this group of women for a year-and-a-half. That last performance on Sunday is going to be very emotional.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.