Knock, knock – Isthmus | Madison, Wisconsin

American Players Theatre’s production of Wolf at the Door begins in complete darkness — perhaps the ideal way to start a fairy tale. 

The pitch-black stage serves as a blank canvas, allowing director Melisa Pereyra and her production designers to almost paint the scenes. The initial darkness also offers a moment for reflection, inevitably prompting the question, “Who will be the wolf at the door?” This question is complicated and key to understanding the play.

Wolf centers on pregnant Isadora (Miranda Pepin) and her abusive husband, Séptimo (Ronald Román-Meléndez), as we hear the ominous howling of wolves outside. The arrival of Yolot (Briana J. Resa), a mysterious and powerful woman who is also pregnant, heightens the intrigue. 

Isadora is ensnared by her husband’s abuse, while Yolot is physically bound by chains. Throughout the turmoil, Isadora’s maid and companion, Rocío (Nancy Rodríguez), provides constant strength and a glimmer of hope. These characters navigate complex relationships and identities. The question remains — who is the predator, who is the prey?

Marisela Treviño Orta’s Wolf at the Door, described as “a Grimm Latinx fairy tale,” is composed primarily of poetic monologues, with additional dialogue weaving the narrative together. The work is the second in a series and follows APT’s production of Orta’s The River Bride in 2022. 

A narrative so poetic and mystical could prove challenging. Pereyra’s direction skillfully balances moments of intense drama with lyrical beauty. Her storytelling and scene-by-scene picture-painting are strengthened by the contributions of the production’s designers. Regina García’s scenic design evokes the mystical nature within the hacienda — a set made complete with a supernatural, gravity-defying teacup, and Jeannette Christensen’s bold and folkloric costuming brings out the raw being of each character. 

The four-actor ensemble adeptly blurs the lines between reality and legend and brings the themes of fear, survival and the supernatural to life. As Isadora, Pepin exudes strength and resilience, anchoring the show with her journey to find a way out of her oppressive circumstance. Román-Meléndez’s Séptimo creates much of the play’s tension with his predatory nature. Resa’s Yolot brings a mystical and supernatural element to the drama, with deep spiritual connections crucial in guiding the women through their perilous journey toward liberation.

Wolf at the Door runs through Sept. 18 at the indoor Touchstone Theater. The play showcases another facet of APT. It’s not the grand Shakespearean side, but one of intimacy and profound metaphorical exploration.

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