2.5 out of 5 stars
The opening of Theatreworks’ “Witch,” directed by Caitlin Lowans, has entertaining qualities and held most of my attention captive while giving me a new meaning of “dark” comedy.
However, production needs work in three areas: masks, actor energy and hidden water bottles in props.
The play follows several characters in a town visited by the Devil, played by Sammie Joe Kinnett. While some characters decide to make deals with him for personal gain, Elizabeth Sawyer, played by Birgitta De Pree, chooses to stand against his sales techniques instead of getting even with those who have accused her of being a witch.
The 100-minute play had no intermission, and while I thought this would be a problem, I was pleasantly surprised to find my attention focused on the plot the entire time. I often get fidgety sitting down for longer than an hour at a time, but this was not the case.
The costumes also reflected the modernization of the script, which was the eye candy of the play.
David Anthony Lewis, who played Sir Arthur Banks, was my favorite actor. Most of the characters had monologues that often felt lengthy, but Lewis never lacked energy, and his emotions were evenly displayed where necessary. He did not lay negative emotions, such as sadness, on thick.
On the other hand, Samia Mounts, who played Winnifred, seemed disconnected from her loss.
The lighting design was well done. It did not distract from the plot, but instead emphasized changes in scenes, which can be hard to do in theater-in-the-round settings, where audiences surround the stage area on all sides.
As for the darkness of the comedy, it was unexpectedly heavy. I came into the theater thinking there would be an equal amount of comedy with the drama. But there was more drama with bits of comedic relief. It was darker than I think the writer of the play, Jen Silverman, intended it to be.
Actors had to wear masks when walking among audience members. Each actor incorporated their masks in a different way. Because of this, there was no cohesiveness and so it was often a distraction or caused props to move too late during scene changes.
In order to fix this problem, the entire stage would have to change. I think it would have been better to avoid a theater-in-the-round setting given the pandemic. This way, actors would not have to move through audiences and therefore not worry about masks. More seating could have been made available with a more traditional stage, as well.
Some actors were just more energetic and driven in portraying their characters. Christian O’Shaughnessy appeared to be the least invested in his character, and as such his acting fell short compared to the rest of the cast. He could have better sold his character by matching the energy of his fellow castmates.
At one point during the play, a water bottle fell out from under one of the tables, and then it stayed where it fell through the final scene. Something actors learn from their first play is to never stash water in any of the props, or else accidents such as this one happen live. Actors create this false world before our eyes, and if something happens to cast doubt on this world they have worked so hard to create, it diminishes the quality of the play.
Imagine something so simple, such as a water bottle, being the thing that ruins a performance. It is unfortunate, but it was an eyesore, and I could not take my mind off of it enough to enjoy the rest of the performance.