|L-R: Vella Lovell and Ruy Iskandar in Witch at Geffen Playhouse. Directed by Marti Lyons. Photo credit: Jeff Lorch|
By E.M. Fredric
The Geffen has scored more hits than misses during the last year, and Witch is no exception. This wonderful take on witches, devils, souls for sale and the state of the world (then and now) is written with great comedic aplomb by Jen Silverman. She feeds her actors’—in this retelling of a Jacobean drama—roles with a delectable array of the absurd yet superlatively nuanced reality set against all that’s royal.
These include: Elizabeth (Maura Tierney), a banished woman who has been named a witch; Sir Arthur (Brian George), who decides to bring in a lout from the lower class but oh-so-popular with the locals Frank Thorney (Ruy Iskandar) as his second son, so that he’ll produce an heir; and Sir Arthur’s real son, Cuddy (Will Von Vogt) likes/loves/hates Frank and won’t be producing an heir anytime soon. So the stage is set for a jealous rivalry between them which makes for fantastic fodder.
Everyone seems to have a secret or want to sell their soul quickly to the devilishly handsome, Scratch (Evan Jonigkeit). He’s a devil who has assumed many forms and goes about collecting souls in exchange for promised deeds (for which he forgets to do the paperwork). Scratch is more of a devil-in-training. Instead of fire he actually has heart—surprising himself as much as us.
The servant (Vella Lovell) is already married to Frank, but Cuddy wants her to marry him because she’s pregnant—all fantastical yet all-too-real situations revealing what people do to get what they want—not what they deserve and vice-versa.
Elizabeth surprises Scratch by saying no to selling her soul initially. Yet by the end we realize she was willing to deal all along and her protests were merely a prelude to a dance between them where is revealed for who they are not who they are presented as—in terms of labels. She’s not really the witch, and Scratch is changed deeply by their interactions. He regales us with a spectacular monologue at the end.
Witch succeeds on every level. The scenic design has the upper class world set with a huge table that expands out and retreats to give us the intimate moments where Elizabeth lives. Barefoot in the dirt. Is there hope for our world? Is anything worth hoping for or should we just blow it all up and start from scratch—so many questions and complex nuances are laid out. Kudos to the cast, the playwright and the roster of designers connected to this project.
If you’ve got friends coming into town, do NOT miss this show. Bring them. Your stomach will hurt from laughing. My best 92-year-old friend said, “This is funny!” during a moment in the play - we were seated in the first row. The actor playing the devil thanked him and the laughs continued on from there.
RUN to this show! It represents the best 95 minutes of theater happening now with no false notes! Richly acted and rousingly performed under flawless direction by Marti Lyons, Witch continues at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024, through September 29th. The play runs in its entirety for just over an hour-and]with no intermission. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased by phone, (310) 208-5454, or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org.
E.M. Fredric, an accomplished screenwriter, producer, actor and prominent journalist, joins Brooklyn & Boyle as an Associate Editor and very welcome addition to a venerable team of community-based contributing writers. We are pleased to be working alongside her and are grateful for her energy and dedication. She blogs and posts at www.EvaMarieFredric.com