BWW Review: SALTONSTALL'S TRIAL: THE SALEM WITCH TRIAL'S UNTOLD STORY at Larcom Theatre in Beverly
The Salem Witch Trial's Untold Story
A New Play Written by Michael Cormier & Myriam Cyr, Story by Michael Cormier, Directed by Myriam Cyr; Producers, Patricia Peterson Jamison, Linda Menzies, Cat Stramer; Set Designer/Costume Designer, Cat Stramer; Lighting Designer, John Malinowski; Props Designer, Noah Greenstein; Music Director, Janet Glasser; Stage Manager, Susan Parker; Assistant Stage Manager, Amy LeJeune
CAST: Benjamin Evett, Christopher Lydon, Les Tarmy, Hal Scardino, Phil Thompson, Sarah Carlin, Shawna Ciampa, Steven Sacks, Bobby Kerrigan, Carol Goans, Barbara Bourgeois, Verjana Abazaj, Dan Bruns, Cliff Dike, John Archer, Noah Greenstein, Pamela Battin-Sacks, Laura Dike, Evangeline Adelman, Catherine Minnetyan
With the term "witch hunt" being bandied about ad nauseam in our national discourse, it seems an ideal moment to look back upon the actual witch hunt that occurred in Essex County, Massachusetts, at the end of the 17th century. Saltonstall's Trial: The Salem Witch Trial's Untold Story, a new play by Michael Cormier and Myriam Cyr at the Larcom Theatre in Beverly, does just that. It is a smart, ambitious production with a commanding performance by Elliot Norton and IRNE Award-winning actor Benjamin Evett in the title role and a 20-member ensemble representing the accused women, town residents, clergy, and officers of the Court.
Cyr is the Artistic Director of Punctuate4 Productions and one of four women founders of the non-profit theater company now in its second season. She and Patricia Jamison, Linda Menzies, and Cat Stramer have worked together since 2013 in a series of theatrical ventures, culminating in the establishment of Punctuate4 in May, 2018. They are dedicated to new works with a mission to both entertain and educate, and have engaged with a broad swath of the community to establish an already vibrant presence.
In a similar fashion to The Crucible, Arthur Miller's 1953 play about the witch trials written as an allegory of the McCarthy hearings, Saltonstall's Trial resonates in our present circumstances as a cautionary tale, filled with themes of fear and ignorance, presuming guilt rather than innocence, and integrity versus expedience. Based on the true story, the play views the trial through the lens of Nathaniel Saltonstall, a magistrate from Haverhill who is appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony to sit on a tribunal in Salem. An upstanding man of fact and faith, when he sees the other two jurists, Chief Justice William Stoughton (Phil Thompson) and Judge John Hathorne (Bobby Kerrigan), denying the accused women of due process, Saltonstall begins to question the legitimacy of the proceedings at some risk to himself and his family. Although the play indicates the futility of his intervention in one particular case, the reality is that there were 20 people hanged and one pressed to death between June and September of 1692. However, trials were suspended that fall and, in the spring of 1693, after trials resumed, the last accused witches were released from prison and their sentences commuted.
The program includes a timeline of the Salem witch scare that indicates only a fraction of the rich dramatic vein mined for this story. In addition to her creative roles already mentioned, Cyr also directs Saltonstall's Trial and brings out the humor hidden within the drama. She draws strong performances across the board, but deserving of mention are Hal Scardino (Rev. Rowland Cotton), Sarah Carlin (Elizabeth Saltonstall), Carol Goans (Bridget Bishop), and Barbara Bourgeois (Deliverance Hobbs). The play has been developed in readings and workshops over the course of three years prior to this full production run of ten performances at the Larcom. It is valuable as a history lesson, but arguably more beneficial when seen as a looking glass for current events.
Photo credit: Mark Lorenz (Benjamin Evett as Nathaniel Saltonstall)