Don't look behind this door

Hosted by

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

The setup for Tom Jacobson's play The Devil's Wife is simple.

The Ramirez sisters have just lost their father to a heart attack. Now they are all alone and must somehow fend for themselves. We're in a sort of indescript time - maybe Medieval, maybe Gothic. Anyway, it's a time when women still wear corsets.

Luckily for the three sisters, while they have no gold they do have thousands of acres of land. They quickly hatch a plan to sell off some of it, and maybe the oldest among them will get married to support the others. Fortunately, the oldest is also the prettiest - Bonita. The second daughter the sweetest - Dulce. And the youngest daughter? She's the cleverest - Sofia.

So Sofia seems to be a step ahead of the others and has already set up an appointment with a slick lawyer for that very afternoon. The lawyer shows up and, wouldn't you know it, already has a plan all drawn up to marry one of the sisters take a third of the land and save the day.

After a little consternation, the sister's agree. Off goes the eldest to be married to the slick lawyer and we wait for everyone to live happily ever after, right?

Wrong. The lawyer has one condition: his new wife can go anywhere she wants except the cellar. You see where this is going right?

Of course, she looks in the cellar and disappears. The lawyer returns to the two sisters, marries the next oldest: lather, rinse, repeat.

Now if this sounds like an old fairytale, you're right, it is. Not only does it have that simplistic, formulaic plot, it also has a historical Italian folk tale at its root. Mr. Jacobson has refashioned the ending a bit (more on that in a second) but the bones of the story are the same, three sisters, three marriages, and a forbidden door.

Now with any familiar form, be it comfort food or a fable, usually part of the joy is you know what you're dealing with. That familiarity allows you to focus on the specifics of this particular telling. It's a bit like a chef doing mac and cheese. What's exciting is that particular chef's take on mac and cheese - ooh, bacon bits or wow, gruyere!

Watching The Devil's Wife I kept waiting for this production's particular take on this folktale. Why adapt this folktale and share it with us now? Where's the special sauce?

The closest thing to a chef's signature dish in this production comes at the end. Spoiler from the title, that lawyer is the devil and that cellar door is the door to hell. When our third cunning daughter Sofia finally matches wits with her husband she shows no mercy, which leads to some odd theological questions. I won't spoil the specifics. Suffice it to say it's too little too late - so much so that when the play comes to a close, the audience isn't really sure that it's ended, or why? A closing sound cue has to prompt us to applaud.

If you're a devotee of folktales, maybe The Devil's Wife is for you. Just don't go looking for anything off the beaten path.

The Devil's Wife plays at the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz through August 27.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Run time: 90 Minutes without an intermission.