“Wild Horses” is a different and powerful view of the start of growing up

Estelle Bajou in
Estelle Bajou stars in "Wild Horses" at NJ Repertory

I have long said that the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch consistently brings to its audiences outstanding new plays staged by directors of skill and performed by actors of consummate talent. Its latest production, Wild Horses, is no exception, and its playwright/ director/ actor team — all powerfully talented women — have created a play of such deep emotional impact that my opening-night companion was crying tears of joy at its conclusion.

Wild Horses is a one-woman show with a cast of twelve. That’s no error: Director SuzAnne Barabas, artistic director of NJ Rep, has devised a prologue set in a Tastee-Freeze-turned-karaoke-bar, populated by a bartender and probably the most naturalistic group of habitués seen on stage in a long time. The diverse group sings, drinks, and mingles, forming and re-forming into small groups and couples, setting a perfect atmosphere for actress Estelle Bajou to begin the seventy minute monologue created by playwright Allison Gregory.

Ms. Bajou, playing a middle-aged woman, relates the tale of the 13-year-old version of herself as she starts the transition from childhood to adulthood. During her performance she changes into not only her younger self, but her two closest friends, her mother, and all the others who play a part in the beginning of her coming-of-age.

Texas-based playwright Gregory has created a work of such power and beauty, shining with its own inner truths, that you wonder why you haven’t heard of her before now, and how you can see more of her work. Her creative artistry is matched by the deep understanding of the play shown in Barabas’ skillful direction and the sheer talent of actress Bajou in her interpretation of the many characters she portrays. Together they make a strong theatrical triumvirate, one that make you want to see their work both separately and together in years to come. They are well served by NJ Rep’s technical staff: scenic designer Jessica Parks’ just-right local hangout; the light and sound designs of Jill Nagle and Merek Royce Press; and Patricia E. Doherty’s costumes.

This is the kind of show you hope would go on to productions in larger venues in the region. It is touching, honest, and presented with love and understanding. For an outstanding evening in the theatre, from the first karaoke song to the last call at the bar, I can’t think of a better production than Wild Horses at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Go. See it.

Note: In addition to Wild Horses and last month’s The Calling, the upcoming season at New Jersey Repertory Company includes: Chloe Hung’s Issei, He Say, from April 19 thru May 20; Mercy by Adam Szymkowicz, June 14 thru July 15; Michael Tucker’s Assisted Living, from August 9 thru September 9; and Wolf at the Door by Marisela Orta, October 18 thru November 18. I have never yet been disappointed at any play put on by New Jersey Repertory Company. It’s simply the most consistently outstanding company in the state today. You owe it to yourself to be part of their audience.

Wild Horses is being presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company at the Lumia Theatre in Long Branch through March 25, 2018. For tickets and information, visit njrep.org.

Here is a preview of the “pre-show”…

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.