The Devil's Wife - Skylight Theatre

By Joshua Kahn

The Skylight Theatre presents another world premiere with Tom Jacobson's The Devil's Wife, a pulpy, comedic melodrama, heavily steeped in the world of 19th Century moralistic fables.

Its roots as a European folktale become immediately apparent through its story and gothic tone. The play opens right after the funeral for the father of the three Ramirez Sisters, who, suddenly orphaned, are alone for the first time and unsure what will happen to their massive estate. As is typical with fairy tales, each sister is boiled down to a one-word descriptor: the oldest, beautiful Bonita; the middlest, sweet Dulce; and the babyest, smart Sofia. Their prayers for a solution are swiftly answered by the appearance of a mysterious and handsome lawyer, Nicolas Mastema. Of course, nothing is as it seems as Nicolas marries the sisters, one by one, shortly before they mysteriously disappear.

Stephanie Kerley-Schwartz's set makes decent use of the Skylight's wide, shallow stage. Fun lighting cues and melodramatic music stings (by Jeff McLaughlin and Christopher Moscatiello, respectively), serving as transition between (at times, awkwardly paced) scenes, hit the perfect pulpy notes that the material calls out for but has a hard time reaching overall. Director Eric Hoff stages the action very well, but has difficulty striking a consistent tone across all the performances. Mariel Neto as Bonita and Alana Dietze as Dulce, while funny and entertaining, struggle to find depth beyond Bonita's beauty and Dulce's sweetness (which the show takes to mean "ditzy and sex-crazed"). The role of Bonita especially leaves the weakest impression, as beautiful is a much less actable adjective than sweet. These talented actresses are, unfortunately, not given much to work with, as their roles are stepping stones for Sofia (Caro Zeller) to build upon. Ms. Zeller gives the most grounded performance, with Sofia's intelligence and compassion allowing her much more room to create an emotionally honest performance. Everette Wallin as Nicolas (and as Nicolas' comedic, sagely manservant Ratel) is  evocative of a young Jon Hamm in the way he, ahem, devilishly underplays the  mischievous attorney, thickly laying on the smooth-talking charm.

While the performances are constantly entertaining, the show as a whole does test  one's patience. As Nicolas goes from marriage to marriage, we know full well the fates that will befall Bonita and Dulce, just as we knew the Big Bad Wolf would have no trouble blowing down houses of straw and wood. This just means the audience gets a bit ahead of the action and is forced to wait most of the show's brisk 80-minute runtime before the non-twist implied by the show's title is finally revealed, surprising only to the characters on-stage. The potency of further twists, while still surprising and intriguing, is a bit undermined by heavy-handed (and thought-inspiring) examinations of capital-F Faith and capital-L Love. This sharp turn into the philosophical is a bit at odds with the shaky melodrama of the first two-thirds of the show, which serves to muddle the tone even more. With a stronger grasp on tone, The Devil's Wife could be a fun, provocative skewering of fairytale tropes...but, uneven as it is, the opening night audience was still bursting with constant laughter.

 Catch The Devil's Wife at Skylight Thetare through August 20.

Listen to behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast:

Posted By Joshua Kahn on July 18, 2017 11:15 am | Permalink