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Wild Horses
So we're going to get in trouble! If you get three tardies you get a detention and one more after that you get suspended and after three suspensions you get expelled. — The Girl
Wild Horses
Estelle Bajou (photo credit: SuzAnne Barabas)
There is one rule a critic generally follows: Never try to re-write the play you have just seen in your head or out-loud with your companion on the way home to make it better. Just review the play as written and presented. I could not resist with Wild Horses by Allison Gregory and directed by Susanne Barabas now having its world premiere (part of a rolling premiere at a number of regional theaters by the National New play Network) at the New Jersey Repertory Company.

What Barabas has done is integrate something that is not an inherent part of the text. She has created a very clever and even strangely compelling prologue that sets the stage, promises much, but then sadly doesn't deliver.

The play takes place in 1996 and is set in a venue of the director's choice (the playwright describes it as having previously been a Tastee Freeze). Barabas sets it in a bar (well realized by designer Jessica Parks) anywhere in U.S.A. It's karaoke night.

At this bar ten locals mingle and take turns singing a familiar ballad or popular tune. They chatter amongst themselves and order drinks from the affable bartender (Jim Benner). Although they have no participation in the text itself — a monologue that lasts about one hour. We know that something is afoot when at long last a woman (Estelle Bajou) gets up on the small platform and takes hold of the mike and doesn't sing but begins to speak.

So begins the woman's memory of herself as a rebellious thirteen year old and her misadventures with a pair of girl friends as they ran loose, drove around their seedy neighborhood, visited boys stole liquor from a parent's bar, ran around looking for pot, and talked about sex and their abusive and cheating mothers and fathers. Our story-teller seems particularly concerned about her fourteen year-old sister who is having an affair with a married man who lives across the street, but also about some corralled horses that she and her friends have discovered are being mistreated.

The recollection includes her sexual awakening and how growing up isn't easy. Really? Credit to Ms. Bajou for the daunting task to not only play herself and also take on the voice and posture of the many male and female characters she vividly recalls.

I could be snide and say that this woman knows how to clear a room, but that is exactly what happens slowly as the assembled leave one by one. She then directs her story to us. Her story is fraught with the shenanigans pulled by countless teens but not fraught with a compelling thread to really engage. The question of her survival or of overcoming adversity never seems to be in question. So why does it matter?

Back to my wondering. What would her story have been like if the director had allowed the young people in the bar to become integrated into the narrative with touches of magical realism. But that would take collaboration with the playwright. I can't help but think of the beautifully sung solos and the characters that were created with an understanding of the songs they chose to sing in the charming prologue. But these go nowhere. However, kudos to local performers (Alli Angelou, Debbie Bernstein, Jessica Freeland, Danielle Grosso, Velda Harris, Carl Hoffman, A.J.Melnick, Chris Price, Amelia Vitale, and Heather Welsh) for their, nevertheless, engaging renditions.

Audiences will have no difficulty seeing wild horses in peril as a metaphor for reckless girls at play. That, however, isn't enough to corral any real concerns from us for that girl who did grow up to be that woman with the mike.

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Wild Horses by Allison Gregory
Directed by SuzAnne Barabas
Cast: Estelle Bajou (Woman), James Benner (bartender), Alli Angelou, Debbie Bernstein, Jessica Freeland, Danielle Grosso, Velda Harris, Carl Hoffman, A.J.Melnick, Chris Price, Amelia Vitale, Heather Welsh (patrons at the bar)
Scenic Design: Jessica Parks
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
Sound Design: Merek Royce Press
Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
Stage Manager: Kristin Pfeifer
Running Time: 90 minutes no intermission
New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J. (732) 229-3166
Performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Saturday at 3 pm, Sunday at 2 pm.
From 02/22/18 Opened 02/24/18 Ends 03/25/18
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/25/18

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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