THE DEVIL’S WIFE

Three recently bereaved sisters find their world rocked by a mystery man dressed all in black (save a pair of blood-red satin gloves) in Tom Jacobson’s devilishly droll period thriller The Devil’s Wife, a Skylight Theatre Company World Premiere.

Flood, drought, locusts, lawyers, and the death of their father have left the once wealthy Ramirez girls—Bonita (Mariel Neto), Dulce (Alana Dietze), and Sofia (Caro Zeller)—with a roof over their heads and thirty-three thousand acres of untillable land but neither savings nor servants to provide for their many needs.

What the sisters do have as assets are themselves, and while frisky middle sis Dulce would gladly go on auction to the highest marital bidder, their father’s will has specified that his eldest must be the first to wed, and ice virgin Bonita is in no hurry to plight her troth.

Since an attorney versed in real estate law is what’s now most needed to provide the Ramirez siblings with financial advice, the smart-and-sassy Sofia has summoned legal counsel to their family abode.

Enter Nicolas Mastema (Everette Wallin), not the toothless, tubercular seventy-nine-year-old the girls have imagined but a handsome hunk hardly a day over thirty and armed with a proposal that could well put an end to the sisters’ financial woes.

In exchange for one-third of the Ramirez acreage, he will marry the eldest daughter on condition that the five-foot-long staff that is Sofia’s weapon of choice be returned to the Mastema family from whence it came.

And so, willing or not, Bonita marries Nicolas, who soon finds himself the most sexually unsatisfied of grooms thanks to his wife’s post-wedding exhaustion, general anxiety, and a time of the month that has gone on a record six weeks and counting.

Not that Bonita is any happier with their living arrangements, Nicolas’s frequent business trips leaving her behind with only a bearded, wizened, hunchback servant named Ratel to inform his new mistress of her husband’s one and only rule.

She must never go in the cellar!

With its mid-nineteenth century setting, its frequent dark-and-stormy nights, and its tongue-slightly-in-cheek melodrama, The Devil’s Wife will remind audiences with long movie memories of mid-1960s Roger Corman-Vincent Price-Edgar Allan Poe thrillers like House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum, and The Tomb Of Ligeia.

In other words, there’s as much humor as there is horror in the mix, and never more so than when a certain rule gets disobeyed and there just might be a need for more than one Devil’s Wife.

Under Eric Hoff’s savvy direction, an all-around terrific cast deliver one deliciously stylized performance after another, from Neto’s haughty Bonita to Dietze’s saucy Dulce to Zeller’s ballsy Sofia to Wallin’s seductive Nicolas, with special snaps to two of the above for some of the year’s most thrillingly (and believably) executed stage combat, expertly choreographed by Mike Mahaffey.

I must confess to being less enamored of The Devil’s Wife’s forays into theological philosophizing, and I can’t help thinking that the play’s title (and identifying the actor playing Ratel in the program) give away too much.

What cannot be debated is scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s stylish set, Sarah Figoten Wilson’s equally elegant period costumes (from somber mourning to frilly undies to Zorro-ready cape and boots), Jeff McLaughlin’s striking lighting design with its splashes of scarlet, and Christopher Moscatiello’s pitch-perfect sound design collage of suspense-heightening music and dramatic effects.

The Devil’s Wife is produced by Gary Grossman and Tony Abatemarco. Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx is associate producer.Christopher Hoffman is production stage manager. Casting is by Raul Clayton Staggs.

Once again revealing Tom Jacobson to be one of L.A.’s most original, daring, compelling playwrights, The Devil’s Wife provides a devilishly entertaining mix of chuckles and chills at the Skylight.

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Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. Through September 3. Fridays at 8:30. Sundays at 7:00. Reservations: 213 761-7061
www.skylighttheatrecompany.com

–Steven Stanley
August 6, 2017
Photos: Ed Krieger

 

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