This week in the news read like a dystopian novel, the heartbeat bill was passed in Georgia making abortions and women’s bodies public policy. Women have always faced discrimination as the “second sex” and were blamed for society’s transgressions. Just when I think there is hope, we are overcoming, I feel like the world takes a stumble backwards, and I am not amused.
This play is exacting in all the right ways. There is a joke in the theater community- some companies just spin out classics and claim they are doing things for art’s sake. But there lacks a message, a devotion, a connection to what is going on around them. This play is set in the 1700s and reads very “Crucible” ish, but it has its own message, and a modern tie in. They are not arguing that there is a relevant reason to do Shrek, they are really putting their money where their mouth is and putting forth a solid message here.
The low down: Alice is a loose woman, she dreams of bigger and better things for her and her son and her mother, but, life sucks when you are poor. When shit happens to the neighbors instead of bad luck or anything they do what any other self-respecting good people would do, they claim it is witchcraft and point to the tenants who can’t make the rent. Not only are these women falsely accused, tried, and ultimately dealt with as witches, they are disgraced by society for nothing more than helping, wanting, and being, well, women. History really blows.
The thing that elevates this play leaps and bounds over others is the music. Churchill attached lyrics and chord sheets but Parker Bailey Steven has taken these scrabbled musings and created the foundation for a fucking sheerly brilliant emo album that I would buy two of tomorrow. Her modern pagan look, her ease in strumming away on the electric guitar, her ethereal voice piercing the light fixtures of the stage, and her soul poured out in songs is utterly mesmerizing. She gave me goose bumps. I think I have a crush. HOLY SHIT. And then Director Erin Riley told me she wrote all the music herself- she is still haunting my dreams in the best possible way.
Alice is played by Lanoree Blake whose adorable pin curls and perfect postured corset belie her place in this warped society. She is the best in her tortured scenes where she has to fight for her mother, and herself. She goes head to head with Jack (Izaak Michael) with ease. And deals with “Man” in the beginning (Jamal Kitchen) as a business transaction. Things only get crazy when she catches feelings. But are her feelings really for him or for the life he could offer her? There is the right guy and the right now guy, she might have it twisted. But when he uses her services, then calls her a whore, you have the whole dichotomy of womanhood on a plate. Women have been labeled too pure and prude, or loose and disregarded with little ground in between. He looks her in the eye and says “what are you then? You aren’t a whore, you aren’t a wife, what are you?”
Nicole Mullins is the neighbor Margery who is masquerading as a religious pious woman who finally denies her mooching neighbor more free handouts. She really influences her husband and others to pursue the “witchcraft” cry. Her performance was poignant in driving home the point that although women are persecuted and mistreated, some of it is brought on by the hands of other women. Her tempered attempts to uphold her house, herself, and her family are commendable, even if they are misguided.
Betty is played by by Marela Kay Minosa, a sad little married woman who is afraid of childbirth, afraid of miscarriage, afraid of the “curer” in the woods, afraid of well, everything. She is one of the most susceptible, and in an apt nod in name to Miller’s “Crucible” Betty, who has a fainting spell, both propel their own antics to incriminate their friends. Churchill lifted this piece right off the page it seems.
Daniel Douek pulls double duty as the doctor called in to do some blood letting, you know, like they do to hysterical women who don’t want to get married back then. And then again as the Inquisition, I mean, Reverend Packer who interrogates women accused of witchcraft. He is determined to find out these witches come hell or high water, and if that means drowning them, well, that’s not off limits either. His henchman Goody, Margare Condon, is much needed comic relief in her unwavering swooning of the godly man. So lusting after a man of God while waving your religion around with pride is cool, being a witch isn’t. Got it.
Joan is brought to life by K. Tony Korol-Evans. Her depiction is dead on of a bitter tired old woman who has had enough of everybody’s shit. Girl, I feel you on a spiritual level. Her hissing and cackling raised the hairs on my arm (For like the third time this afternoon if you are keeping count).
The set was simple with twisted vines that spoke to a spooky forest, and worked to underscore the place and time (Lance Bankerd and Gaya Sel). Spotlighters is kind of land-locked with the in the round seating and four poster columns. But I did think they used the space to its full capacity. I did not often feel like I had actor’s backs and that is hard with this layout. Lighting shifts were handled simply with well-timed blackouts and use of shifts by Lana Rigggins.
Director Riley keeps things going and lets the audience unfold the mysteries. The opening is a bit odd and hard to follow, but by the time Act 2 goes up, you are all in and bracing for the worst. The songs really work to add a documentary feel to the piece that allows it to be old and modern in the same swift breath. And after hearing Parker Bailey Steven serenade you, you might never be the same again.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? I cannot think of a better way for me to spend my Mother’s Day than taking in this shocking and relevant piece of theater. The story is captivating but the music is spell-binding. I think they may have bewitched me; I was in a trance watching the pitch perfect piece unfold. Get all the fierce ass ladies in your life assembled and go see this production before it closes.
Running at Spotlighters Theater through June2nd. Running time a little over two hours with one fifteen-minute intermission.