At one point during the Coterie's new reprise of Laurie Brooks' celebrated 2000 play, The Wrestling Season, Melanie (played by long-haired, blond Kelly Gibson) pulls a stick of gum out of her bra and offers it to Matt (Tosin Morohunfola). The flirtatious gesture elicits giggles and groans from the audience — mostly from the people old enough to recall the days before sexting. There was a time when the awkward forswearing of innocence didn't feel quite so dirty.
Brooks has revised her work, but it still effectively captures the world of teens and their ill-advised decisions. The Wrestling Season looks at eight kids (four girls and four boys) — sweaty, sometimes tearful and always conflicted — doing their best to navigate the harsh and unpredictable tides of high school social pressures. In 2012, that means ugly text messages, cyberbullying and the ultimate slam book: Facebook.
The play centers on the childhood friendship of Matt and Luke (Sam Cordes) that takes a turn when a friendly teammate hug lasts a little too long. Their closeness, meanwhile, has already raised questions between rival wrestlers Jolt (Rufus Burns) and Willy (Francisco Villegas). Rumors fly, epithets are murmured, and Luke finds himself the target of "Stomp a Fag Day." ("Thirty-six people on Facebook like it," a character echoes.) Not helping: Jolt's girlfriend, Heather (Eva Biro), and her easily influenced sidekick, Nicole (Andrea Morales), who twist secondhand gossip into something new to spread.
The girls have their own problems. Melanie? She's not easy but she lets people call her "slut" for the attention it brings. And Kori (Meredith Wolfe) laments, "Wouldn't it be great if everyone could just tell everyone how they really feel?" It's Brooks speaking to her audience — an answer to the "You think you know me, but you don't" that's uttered by more than one of these kids — but she keeps her characters grappling with their confusion.
To keep that struggle front and center, director Leigh Miller dresses all the characters in wrestling singlets. A referee oversees the action and, at the end of pivotal dialogue, blows his whistle and makes calls like "Two points!" or "Out of bounds!" He also moderates the finale, asking the audience to line up the characters according to the severity of their actions — an exercise in judgment not far removed from the impulses that Brooks is asking us to consider. But if that conclusion undermines Season, it also sends the audience home with an acute reminder of rumormongering's poisonous effects. Words can stick like a piece of sweaty gum and leave their bad taste a lot longer.