By Madeline Schulman
Long Branch — Estelle Bajou is phenomenal. In Wild Horses, a one woman play (with a twist) by Allison Gregory, now at NJ Rep, she plays an entire town full of characters, sometimes enacting scenes between three and four people, differentiating them by her voice, her face, and her body. Changing Bajou to Bijou yields a gem, and Estelle Bajou is a multifaceted gem.
The above mentioned twist is that although Wild Horses has one main speaking part, the stage is populated by several people. Please forget the usual 8 o’clock curtain time and be sure to be in your seat by 7:30, admiring Jessica Parks’s set, a bar that was once a Tastee Freeze in Anytown USA, 1996.
Several local performers, led by Carl Hoffman as a genial bartender, drift in to drink and sing karaoke. Eventually Ms. Bajou joins them, and after mingling for a while, starts speaking. Whether she is addressing her fellow patrons, the audience or herself doesn’t matter, because her tale is fascinating.
The unnamed woman reminisces about the summer she was thirteen. Her first preoccupation was sending 90 entries to a radio contest to name the band America’s “Horse With No Name.” She and her friends, wild leader Zabby and accident prone follower Skinny Linny (spellings not guaranteed), spend their days with such diversions as drinking their parents’ alcohol, trying to score weed from an obnoxious boy, and egging cars.
Zabby has two brothers, mean Dean and dreamboat Donno. One night the girls borrow Dean’s car, with our underage heroine at the wheel, to go to the liquor store. On their journey the three girls come across a terrible injustice which they try, fervently and foolhardily, to redress.
Meanwhile, Dean lusts after the narrator, while she daydreams about Donno, and teenagers and adults both indulge in unwise affairs.
Ms. Bajou portrays all three girls, Dean, Donno, the narrator’s older sister Carrie Ann (the “favorite”), her cataleptic mother and her authoritarian father.
As she moves around the stage (direction by SuzAnne Barabas), the audience never loses track of who she is and what she is doing, and never loses interest in what happened that summer many years ago.
Wild Horses is a great evening of theater, telling a tale of adolescence at once particular and universal.
Wild Horses runs through March 25. NJ Rep is located at 179 Broadway. Performances officially start Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m., though you are encouraged to get there early for the pre-show karaoke.
For tickets, call 732-229-3166 or visit njrep.org.