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The world premiere of Afflicted: Daughters of Salem, written by Laurie Brooks opened Friday January 31 on the stage of The Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, Mo. The National Endowment for the Arts award winning drama directed by Jeff Church, Producing Artistic Director at The Coterie, is the tale of the teenage girls who were instrumental in the infamous Salem witch trials.

Brooks ignores the standard production that dramatizes the trial, but instead takes a deep look into the psychology of the girls who so deeply affected the innocent inhabitants of Salem. Through her eyes in a fictional story, the audience gets a glimpse at the domino effect, which came from fear, domination, peer pressure, and a controlling personality.

A trademark of Brooks is post-show forum with the audience that delves into the theme of the production. Most impressive during the forum was how the questions, asked by Tituba, demonstrates how the actions of the girls are not much different from what occurs in society today.

Emily Shackelford returns to The Coterie in the role of Ann Putnam, one of two teens that forms a secret coven of girls who step outside the puritan roles dictated by the people of Salem and particularly Reverend Parris. Recently she starred as Dorothy in The Wiz at The Coterie, which closed on January 5, 2014. As an actor, she ranks high on the list of professional performers in Kansas City, consistently giving outstanding performances. She is fun to watch on stage, even when not directly immersed in the action or dialogue. Her facial expressions and body language as she watches and listens to the performers keeps her character involved throughout the production.

Opening night was The Coterie premiere of UMKC graduate acting student Nicole Greenberg. Her opening night performance was strong and powerful as Abigail Williams, the domineering teen who instigates the witch trials to save her own life. If the talent she demonstrated on stage Friday is any indication, audiences should expect see her in theaters throughout the metropolitan area.

Another UMKC graduate acting student and making her debut at The Coterie, Alisha Espinosa, takes on the role of Tituba, the slave who through spells and chants protects the teenage coven. Stepping into the role of moderator in the post-show forum, she uses a good sense of humor and timing keeps the audience participating in the discussion. The second year MFA Acting student has appeared in productions staged by UMKC Theatre.

Co-produced by the UMKC Theatre Department, Afflicted: Daughters of Salem, features UMKC students Emily Nan Phillips as Mercy Lewis, Jessica Jensen as Mary Warren, and Logan Black as the Voice of Reverend Parris. Professional actor Hannah Thompson joins the cast as Betty Paris, the cousin of Abigail accused of betraying the sanctity coven.

The production employs strikingly simple sets designed by Jeff Ridenour, which when entering the theater the audience gets the sense of journeying to the center of a deep dark forest. The use of a single window directs the action away from the woods and inside the hamlet of Salem. The closing of the show, which involves the set, is inspired.

Afflicted: Daughters of Salem continues at The Coterie Theatre though February 23. Purchase tickets by visiting The Coterie webpage or calling the box office at 816-474-6552. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder and The Coterie Theatre.

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