BWW Review: DEVIL'S SALT: A 17th Century Drama About Witchcraft, Religious Zealotry and Sexual Obsession
Much in the same vein as Arthur's Miller The Crucible, DEVIL'S SALT presents a tale about witchcraft in which a young woman is accused of consorting with The Devil and forced to give her life just for being who she is, a modern-thinking woman before her time. Jovanka Bach's World Premiere drama, directed and produced by her husband John Stark as a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, is set in the 17th Century in the King James Colony of Plymouth Bay in New England, a very Puritanical community in which Hannah Mulwray, a young woman who acts as a mid-wife, is brought to trial for witchcraft. Her main accuser, Hooker Wainwright, is the Governor of the colony and a man driven by religious zealotry and his own sexual obsession ignited by witnessing Hannah and her husband William (handsome Robert Brettenaugh) making love in the forest. And since he cannot accept the sexual excitement he feels as anything other than The Devil, poor Hannah is doomed to suffer just for being a free-spirited being.Katharina Magdalena magnificently portrays Hannah Mulwray, opening up her heart and soul to allow us to see the real woman behind the accusations born in the mind of a man who cannot have her physically. As she fights for her life in a courtroom battle against the three men who will judge her, it is very apparent their Puritan beliefs will result in her demise. For while we now can sense why Hannah danced in the woods with young women to celebrate their femininity and power in a time when women were told to obey men and stay silent, there was no way she would be able to survive in such a repressed community. Along with her main accuser Hooker Wainwright, portrayed by Tom Groenwald as a man tormented and unable to accept his own sexual longing as anything other than The Devil taking over his body, others sitting in judgement of Hannah are Henry Skiers (stalwart Alexander Wells) and Jeremiah, portrayed by Dana Kelly as a somewhat senile and suffering old man willing to say whatever will get him back home as soon as possible. Called to testify against Hannah are John and Elizabeth Mears (Joseph Michael Harris and Erin Hammond), a very Puritanical married couple who accuse Hannah of putting The Devil's mark on their stillborn baby, so gruesome that people in the town cannot even look at him. And while we now realize birth defects happen for many reasons, certainly no woman acting as a mid-wife could curse a baby so. But in the 17th Century, if Hannah was not to blame then the religious Mears would have to admit The Devil was in them, something they knew was not true. Again, there was little Hannah could do to save herself from again being accused as channeling The Devil into reality. During a scene in the woods, Hannah works with two women on the skids in life, assisting them into believing in their own worth and getting each of them to recognition their own strength in guiding the direction of their lives. Mona Lee Wylde and Gillian Brashear portray these two "wanton" women, Marula and Magdalena, who often assist in moving scenery pieces in character throughout the play. Wylde is especially wild, and listening to her rants as she goes about her stage work added a most comical element to the production.
The dismal, windswept locale with barren trees is brilliantly represented minimally through the set design by Jaret Sacrey, enhanced by lighting design by Joe Morrissey and sound design by Marty Gwinn and Joe Morrissey. Costume design by Michaelyn Whitlock accentuates the uptight society in which women dressed in layers to cover any possible skin to avoid enticing the men. During the trial, the three men in charge decide to check Hannah for the mark of The Devil, requiring her to expose herself to them. When her most private area is exposed, Groenwald's overtly sexual reaction to her is apparent in every ounce of his being. And of course, there is no mark on Hannah but we do get to see the lovely layers of clothing designed by Whitlock.
The World Premiere of DEVIL'S SALT, a guest production at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd, West Los Angeles, CA. 90025. Performances through December 18, 2016 on Thurs, Fri, & Sat. 8PM or Sun 2PM. Tickets are $18.00 General Admission and may be purchased online at: https://web.ovationtix.com/ trs/cal/34367/1480568400000
For additional information visit: www.johnstarkproductions.com
For additional information: (310) 477.2055
Photography by Miriam Geer