Fairy tales aren’t always for children. Or, at least, “Wolf at the Door,” which is at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Nov. 18 (as part of a rolling world premiere), isn’t.
The play is being marketed as “A Latino fairy tale,” and the setting is described, in the program, as “Once upon a time. Mexico. A hacienda far from anything. Winter.” Judging by Patricia E. Doherty’s costume design and Jessica Parks’ scenic design, which is devoid of anything remotely modern, the action looks like it could be taking place some time in the 1800s or the early 1900s.
Written by Marisela Treviño Orta (who drew inspiration from Mexican folklore), “Wolf at the Door” tells a magical story in a straightforward way, evoking the harsh realities of life with brutal honesty. It’s absorbing, though Orta, following the fairy tale tradition, paints with broad strokes, creating harrowing conflict and sensational action but not offering much in the way of character development. She seems more concerned with what these characters represent than who they are; after the play’s single, 90-minute act is over, they still seem like sketches.
Wolves do, indeed, figure in the story. Mostly, they menace from afar: With a full moon hovering above, we hear their howls, in the distance. But the scariest predator is Septimo (Oscar A.L. Cabrera). He terrorizes his wife, Isadora (Desiree Pinol), who is pregnant at the start of the play and soon gives birth to a stillborn son. The two other characters are Rocio (Liz Zazzi), an older woman who helps with the birth; and Yolot (Alexandra Lemus), a mysterious stranger who shows up at the hacienda one day, and is also pregnant.
Not surprisingly, Septimo tries to prey on Yolot, too, in a way. The three women form an alliance, of sorts, to thwart the dastardly Septimo (I won’t say more than that, so as not to ruin the surprises), and this gives the fairy tale a feminist twist, as well.
Ultimately, “Wolf at the Door” is a fairy tale that seems, in some ways, more timely than timeless.
“Wolf at the Door will be at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Nov. 18; visit njrep.org.