Whatever your choice in Hallowe’en fare, Witch—an adaptation of a Jacobean melodrama now having its world premiere at The Mead Theatre Lab—has it all.
There’s murder, mayhem, and blood on the sheets—which double as shrouds—along with a skeletal dog that may, or may not, be the devil; a ghost; a greedy father and a lethal mom; bigamy and lies; betrayal and lust; innocence wronged and an outcast scorned as a witch.
But that’s not all. In this adaptation, created by the members of Convergence Theatre, there are also images of domestic violence, sex trafficking and the hounding of immigrants, all projected onto the sheets and injected into the tale.
While this is certainly a topical Hallowe’en entertainment, it is neither typical nor laughable. Instead, it’s a good old-fashioned melodrama with a moral, mesmerizing to watch, and movingly performed. Think Macbeth without poetry or subplots, and you have it.
Sharalys Silva is the putative witch. Too young and beautiful to be the old crone of the original, this cast-off woman is portrayed by Silva as an immigrant whose color and hair and accent are all different from those who mete out justice in the village.
She is also depicted—in this version—as a former prostitute, a sex slave who is easily rejected and abused by all. In short, she’s a victim waiting for a crime.
“I am poor, ignorant and deformed,” she laments, describing herself and all women like her. In her loneliness, she pours out her love to a dog who appears to be the devil.
The plot is set in motion when Frank is forced into an economically correct marriage by his father, whose land is mortgaged up to the hilt. Played by Chris Daileader with all the self-righteousness one would expect of a bigamist, Frank is in fact a chip off the old block. Darren Marquardt does a stirring job in the role of the greedy and villainous father, who beats up women both before and after he rapes them.
Stephanie Tomiko is Susan, the princess-like girl from a wealthy and titled family who bubbles with ignorance and arrogance as she pursues the husband who is about to abandon her.
Janani Ramachandran portrays the wife to whom Frank is already married. In an effort to disguise herself—another plot twist borrowed from the bard—the young woman dresses like a man, thus incurring even more hatred from Frank’s wicked dad.
Of course, there’s a Lady Macbeth in this story. In this case, her name is Lady Carter, and she is the mother of the innocent Susan of the pink-and-white skin. In the hands of Annette Mooney Wasno, this lady is evil incarnate, cloaked in kindness and propriety.
Some of the most touching moments in the play are those when the witch, in her loneliness, caresses the skeleton of a very large dog. Manipulated by the other actors, this beautifully articulated large puppet is the work of Joshua Rosenblum, who also designed the set. All the action takes place on a tiny stage, encircled by blood-stained sheets that double as curtains, allowing the characters to enter from all sides.
Turning this black box space into a 17th century village, furnished with little other than superstition and hate, is the work of a talented group of artists, including Assistant Director Alex Miletich IV, and Stage Managers Emma Heck and Brittany Truske.
Lighting Designer Phil da Costa’s projections—on sheets spread out on the floor and fluttering at the back of the theater—add a contemporary dimension to the mayhem on stage.
The costumes, while simple, are highly evocative. Kateri Kuhn and Ali Rocha, both juniors at The Catholic University, have created long skirts out of sheets, hitching them up on both sides to suggest the elegance of aristocrats and letting them hang down for the peasants.
Olivia Haller is the dramaturg who researched the period, finding, for example, that witches in England were burned at the stake and not hung, as they were in the colonies.
Adapted by the members of Convergence Theatre—a collective founded two years ago by Elena Velasco, who is director, choreographer, and producer of this play—Witch is a streamlined version of a 17th century box office hit called The Witch of Edmonton.
First performed at court in 1621, the original play was written by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, and John Ford. It was based on an actual witch-hunt that took place in a village outside London a year earlier, and set out to expose the venality of the accusers.
While long buried under the real masterpieces of the period, the play—as originally written—was recently revived by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with Eileen Atkins as the witch.
In the Convergence version, the cast is reduced from its original 16 to six, and many of the subplots have disappeared. The result is a play that is more suited to contemporary audiences, yet remains a vivid reminder of the fate of women who are rejected by society and then punished for their lot.
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Witch plays through October 30, 2016 at Convergence Theatre, performing at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint – 916 G Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.