Say the devil came to town on a random Wednesday afternoon and invited you to tea.
After the chit and the chat, he asks you what you most want in life, and promises it in exchange for your soul. What say you?
This is the premise of the new Theatreworks production “Witch,” a dark comedy by playwright Jen Silverman.
“It’s about how each character sees the world and what they want to change about the world, and what they’re willing to give up to make that change possible,” said director and Theatreworks artistic director Caitlin Lowans. “Dark comedies are closer to reality than straight comedies or tragedies. In real life, the very funny and the very terrible live right next to each other.”
Silverman’s contemporary adaptation is based on the 1621 tragedy drama “The Witch of Edmonton,” by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford. She’s made some changes, including transforming the vernacular into modern-day language, but has kept the original 17th-century setting. And whereas the devil in the original appeared as a black dog, Silverman transforms her devil, Scratch (Sammie Joe Kinnett), into a smooth-talking salesperson.
After his arrival in a village, Scratch doesn’t have to work too hard to find townsfolk willing to exchange their souls for their greatest desires — until he gets to Elizabeth Sawyer (Birgitta De Pree). She’s the town outcast, mocked and shunned because everyone wrongly believes she’s a witch.
When she says no, thanks, Mr. Devil, a greater conversation is spawned with the surprised trickster who can’t believe she’s turned him down, especially when she appears to have so much to ask for.
The play also stars Hossein Forouzandeh, David Anthony Lewis, Samia Mounts and Christian O’Shaughnessy.
“Silverman’s ‘Witch’ sends up the way we talk today, which owes so much to corporate culture and self-help literature. We sure sound different from people in the 17th century. But have we really changed?” wrote Los Angeles Times critic Margaret Gray after a 2019 production of “Witch” starring Maura Tierney (“ER,” “The Affair”) as Elizabeth.
Silverman has said the 1621 play captured her attention because of its empathetic portrait of a complex, misunderstood woman.
“The play asks questions about the expectation society has about how women, especially older women, who are on the fringes of society and who don’t quite fit the mold: Will they encounter the devil differently than other folks?” Lowans said. “For the playwright, the answer is absolutely.”
There is another, larger question at the heart of the play, one which audience members will likely tangle with once the curtain has fallen: Do I have hope things can get better? And if I don’t, what am I willing to do to create something new?
“I had to embrace a woman who said let’s destroy everything,” said De Pree. “I had to journey with her, a woman who has been hurt and abused. There’s a daringness about saying let’s look at things deeply and be willing to change them.
“I’ve been thinking about that a lot in present day, about equality in the country or how we take care of the planet. What are the systems in place and how do we move forward to take better care of those things?”
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