Entering the Venus theater, for the first time, I felt like a wide-eyed child. Vintage accessories, soft lavender walls, and the dimly lit lobby all suggested that the theater serves as a powerful vehicle for creativity. The safe space, allowed me to relax, feeling as though I was in the company of friends. Beyond the french doors, a circular stage gave way to an intimate seating arrangement, allowing the performers to feed from the exchange of audience energy. Simplistic and pure, the entirely white set offered a stark juxtaposition to the darkness traditionally associated with witches; I could not wait for the show to begin.
Offering a voice to the forgotten, Witches Vanish, brought to light the many missing women over the course of several centuries. A dramatic series of vignettes allowed the audience to experience their harrowing moments, in some cases before and after abductions. Playwright Claudia Barnett wove together each story utilizing the three witches of Macbeth during intermittent sequences, reminding the audience that evil spirits sometimes surface to commit heinous acts above ground.
An eerie voice-over echoed throughout the theater, as a bloody, red pulsating light throbbed in harmony with the names, dates, and locations where women have vanished. Suddenly two beings appeared on stage, like shadows, they moved briskly, without sound, about the space making hasty preparations for the first story. La Cencienta offered a grim twist on the traditional Cinderella story. Vivian Allvin beautifully depicted the delicate innocence of a girl striving for a nice life of dancing and whimsy. Unfortunately, her bleak reality is not quite the fairytale fantasy she desired.
Stolen innocence emerges as a bleak reality in Four Times. An enslaved little girl struggles for freedom on all accords. Tara Cariaso captures the intense dichotomy of a child who was raped. She uses a doll to describe the ghastly atrocities she endured. The child’s mother (Lakeisha Raquel Harrison) appears and with a rich African dialect describes her daughter’s life before and after abduction. Harrison eloquently depicted the emotional hurdles that a mother experiences during extreme circumstances. Her almost ghostly presence begged the question; can she continue to love her little girl despite the evil that is overtaking her daughter’s spirit?
Barnett intended to connect the audience to vast time periods and a variety of cultures. The task was a daunting one, considering the many women she wanted to vindicate. However at times, the Shakespearean interludes, fairytale sequences, and real-life accounts of abduction seem to overlap on stage in a way that was confusing. Antique string puppets and an enormous mammoth, while creative, distracted from the essence of the intense scenes. The pacing of the show was unbalanced. During the first seven vignettes, the stories seemed to flow like stormy waves, one into another.
Unfortunately Scene 8: Kilometer 14 gave way to a much slower pace. While the nature of the scene proved extremely exhaustive, a higher energy level would have conveyed the intensity of the story.
August 20 – September 20
Venus Theatre Company
21 C Street
Details and Tickets or call 202 236-4078
The talented ensemble tackled the many creative concepts in a refreshing manner. Their adaptive nature coupled with an excellent understanding of dialects and character development brought life to each story.
The cool white set offered an excellent backdrop for the carefully crafted light design. Deborah Randall and Kristin Thompson seemed to function as a cohesive collaborative duo. Often times during the course of the show, the icy blue or the pulsating red lighting set the emotional tone for the upcoming scene. The set design also proved to be quite utilitarian. Clever nooks and crannies held props that the Shadow Witches, Latisha Jones and Jennifer Berry, utilized to quickly perform scene changes.
The beauty of the Witches Vanish lies in the narratives of the victims, who would otherwise never be known.
Witches Vanish by Claudia Barnett . Directed by Deborah Randall . Featuring Lakeisha Harrison, Tara Cariaso, Vivian Allvin, Jenni Berry, Leticia Monet . Lighting by Kristin A. Thompson . Sound by Neil McFadden . Masks by Tara Cariaso, Waxing Moon Masks . Produced by Venus Theatre . Reviewed by Britt Oliver.