“Wolf at the Door” is a scary, cautionary Mexican legend

New Jersey Repertory Company closes out its 2018 season with the world premiere of "Wolf at the Door"
New Jersey Repertory Company closes out its 2018 season with the world premiere of "Wolf at the Door"
The world premiere of Wolf at the Door 

The New Jersey Repertory Company closes out its 2018 season with the world premiere of Wolf at the Door. This new play by Marisela Trevino Orta is the type of story designed to be told on a chilly night by a fire, a tale filled with magic — and carrying a warning. It pulls the audience into a land of howling wolves, a mysterious woman who is not quite what she seems, and the thin borders separating this world from the next. It is a show whose characters display powerful emotions, and it has the best last line I’ve heard in a long time. See it you should, and see it you must.

It is a winter night at an isolated ranch in Mexico. Isadora (Desiree Pinol) is pregnant and her baby is coming prematurely. Alone save for her devoted servant Rocio (Liz Zazzi), Isadora gives birth to a stillborn son, to the disgust of her deceptive, cruel husband Septimo (Oscar A.L. Cabrera). After the baby is buried, the two women notice a naked, pregnant female (Alexandra Lemus) near the stables. Unfortunately, so does Septimo, who tries to dominate her as he has with Isadora and Rocio. The woman, who gives her name as Yolot, is given an ultimatum in the form of a bargain: In return for being fed, clothed, and sheltered, Yolot will give Septimo her baby and leave forever. Yolot, to the sound of the howls of the wolf pack she calls her brothers, does not agree. All three women desperately search for a way to prevent Septimo from acquiring Yolot’s baby.

Under the firm direction of Daniel Jáquez, the actors lead us gently but inexorably deeper into the story with balances of power shifting and flowing organically. Things casually said early on become clues to the nature of Yolot and her brothers. By the time you discover the truth, it is both with satisfaction and a realization that what happens is inevitable — the way things must be, the way they have always been. As much as the play is an adult legend in the vein of a Grimm’s fairy tale, it is also a story of female power lost and regained, thus giving a timeless story resonance with modern audiences.

The set design is 1800’s in a “once upon a time” Mexico

The look and feel of the show is a combination of the Mexico of the 1800’s and “once upon a time”. This is accomplished by Jessica Parks’ hacienda set. While it is a far cry from the cozy farmhouse she created for NJ Rep’s previous play, Fern Hill, together these two examples of her talent show a range of scenic artistry that should be putting her in demand all over the country. The scenic design is enhanced by the lighting design of Jill Nagle and the sound design by Merek Royce Press. As the lighting and sound enhance the set, Patricia E. Doherty’s costumes enhance the look of the characters and ground them in a solid yet otherworldly time and place.

New Jersey Repertory Company is part of the National New Play Network, which does “rolling world premieres” of new plays in different cities. They have been honored to be the first of four theatres which will be premiering Wolf at the Door, and we are honored by this production. Theatregoers looking for something with a balance of both a solid story and elements of fantasy need look no further than Wolf at the Door. I strongly encourage you to see it.

Wolf at the Door is being presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company at the Lumia Theatre in Long Branch through November 18, 2018. For tickets and information, visit njrep.org.

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.