Review: WITCH provokes at Burbage Theater Co

Burbage Theater Co's edgy production runs through April 6

By: Mar. 28, 2023
Review: WITCH provokes at Burbage Theater Co
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The devil may be everywhere in Burbage Theater Co's WITCH, but hope is in the details.

In the world of WITCH - written by rising playwright Jen Silverman - demons are self-proclaimed "merchants of hope" for people whose desires and fears have been forged by capitalism and patriarchy. Scratch (Zach Gibb) - a "junior salesman" who believes earnestly in the merit of his profession - has been roaming the dark corners of an historically indeterminate Edmonton, where he's been collecting souls in exchange for wishes. It's easy work until he meets Elizabeth (MJ Daly), the town outcast who leads him to reconsider the value of the souls he takes and the deals he makes in exchange for them. After all, what's a wish worth in a system that confines our imaginations within its walls? And wouldn't a soul outside these walls be more valuable - and dangerous - than anything we could conceive from within them?

Burbage Theater Co brings wit and ambition to the play's Rhode Island debut, offering a production that takes risks and raises questions that linger after final bows. Directed by Allison Crews, the production is at its best when delivering the dark comedy that propels the play's first half, with the cast delivering dialog that crackles and cuts with irony. As the play tips from nervous tension into crisis, key twists happen quickly, causing its final scenes to falter a bit under the weight of the questions they raise, but otherwise WITCH entertains with dark humor, nuance, and surprise.

Zach Gibb and MJ Daly in WITCH at Burbage Theater Co
Zach Gibb as Scratch and MJ Daly as Elizabeth in Burbage Theater Co's production of WITCH. Photos by Andrew Iacovelli.

With rhythms that beat to its characters' shifting desires, WITCH asks much of its small cast, whose members propel the plot with carefully timed tone shifts, silences, and glances. The exchanges between Scratch and Elizabeth anchor the play, and Gibb and Daly animate them with bright energy that dances between playfulness and intensity. Mary Mullane also impresses as Winnifred, a smart and ambitious young woman who gives up her farm life to follow her lover, Frank (played by Jared Nobrega), as he pursues upward mobility within a rigid caste system. Her comedic timing plays effortlessly, and she captures Winnifred's ruthless pragmatism without compromising our sympathy for her. And Alex Crespo Rosario - who plays Cuddy Banks, a young noble whose homosexuality threatens his inheritance - shines in one of the play's most surprising closing movements.

Though the play's many scene changes slow the play's steadily building tension, other staging choices amplify the suspenseful mood. Crews utilizes the front of the production's thrust stage in several of the play's most disturbing scenes, creating unsettling intimacy between players and audience, and lights and music create an eerie atmosphere that intensifies the thickening plot.

As the plot thickens, the questions mount. Is selling your soul an act of hubris or hope? Can a desire to destroy be a blessing as much as a curse? WITCH dares audiences to come to their own answers as it entertains and surprises.

WITCH runs through April 9 at Burbage Theater Co's Wendy Overly Studio Theater, located at 59 Blackstone Avenue in Pawtucket, RI. Tickets are $30 general admission and $15 for students. They are available online at www.burbagetheatre.org and via phone at (401) 484-0355.




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