As we approach Halloween, Convergence Theatre sets out to prove to audiences that the most shocking horror can derive not from our imaginations, but from our own cruel history.
The game cast of director Elena Velasco’s Witch knit together shades of The Crucible and The Exorcist to provide an arresting experience that’s serves as a dark morality play and timely reminder of women’s ongoing fight for safety and equality.
Adapted from the Jacobean tragedy The Witch of Edmonton, Convergence’s Witch re-envisions the tragic, real-life persecution of Englishwoman Elizabeth Sawyer with modern allusions to domestic violence and trafficking. The result is an affecting yet disorienting journey through our troubled gender politics that hits depressingly close to home this election season.
As the play slowly unfolds, Joshua Rosenblum’s ominous set design unnerves the audience with red-spattered sheets and gauzy cobwebs inside the claustrophobic black box theater. A spare soundtrack of random tones, clicks, and disembodied voiceovers adds to the eerie atmosphere.
The play centers on the benighted Mother Sawyer (Sharalys Silva), a poor woman who lives off the land on the edge of a small English village. Led by the cruel Mr. Thorney (Darren Marquardt), the villagers constantly harass and abuse Mother Sawyer, ostensibly for being different and engaging in harmless moonlight rituals with other women. Her only initial saving grace is the kind Lady Carter, played with noble decorum by Annette Mooney Wasno. As the attacks increase, Silva comes into her own as she fights fiercely, but often in vain, for her dignity. Meanwhile, Marquardt channels a tyrannical landlord, mercurial CEO, and wife abuser all at once, occasionally straying into self-parody. Thorney’s extreme cruelty toward Mother Sawyer is balanced out by his unexpected soft spot for his son Frank (Chris Daleider).
Frank struggles throughout the play to balance his loyalty to two women: his true love Winifred (Janani Ramachandran) and his arranged wife Susan (Stephanie Tomiko). With a sizable dowry at stake, Frank tries to have his cake and eat it too. While Daleider struggles to sell the audience on Frank’s hidden mean streak, he’s right at home within the enjoyable physical comedy of frantically tending to two relationships at once. Ramachandran and Tomiko ably play it straight during these comic sequences.
closes October 30, 2016
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Velasco breaks up the realist village business with dark dream sequences, punctuated by alarming surveillance videos, voiceovers, and puppetry. Within this multimedia construct, Mother Sawyer’s final bargain to punish her tormentors is framed not just as one woman’s last straw, but instead as a natural outcome of centuries of female mistreatment.
Transitions between supernatural and real are frequently disjointed and a bit jarring, both from a textual and visual standpoint. Still, as events take a turn for the worse, Velasco and company hammer home a strong statement about the patriarchy’s deleterious effects on women and society as a whole.
Witch serves up a potent brew of Jacobean drama, mysticism, comedy, and heady commentary in just over an hour. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but its creative ambition and urgent call to address violence against women makes for a worthwhile evening.
Witch . Adapted by The Convergence Theatre Collective . Director/Choreographer: Elena Velasco . Cast: Sharalys Silva as Mother Sawyer; Darren Marquardt as Thorney; Janani Ramachandran as Spirit/Winifred; Stephanie Tomiko as Spirit/Susan/Villager; Chris Daleider as Frank/Villager; Annette Mooney Wasno as Lady Carter/Villager . Dramaturgy: Olivia Haller . Set & Puppetry Designer: Joshua Rosenblum . Lighting and Projection Designer: Philip da Costa . Costume Designers: Kateri Kuhn and Ali Rocha . Stage Managers: Emma Heck and Brittany Truske . Produced by Convergence Theatre . Reviewed by Ben Demers.