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BWW Reviews: Metro Theater Company's Outstanding AFFLICTED: DAUGHTERS OF SALEM

Playwright Laurie Brooks examines the events that led to the infamous Salem Witch Trials from a different perspective with her intriguing and thought-provoking work, Afflicted: Daughters of Salem. Unlike Arthur Miller's masterpiece, The Crucible, this play focuses our attention solely on the young girls who wound up making the accusations that started the wheels in motion. What we're privy to are the private thoughts and desires of a group of young girls who meet in the woods under the moonlight with the mystical slave Tituba. What comes through is their unhappiness with the way they feel their individuality is being repressed by their strict Puritan community. Since they can see nearby Quakers experiencing a great deal more freedom, they've come to resent the way of life they feel has been imposed upon them. Metro Theater Company's production at the Missouri History Museum (through March 22, 2015) is a taut and vivid presentation that ends with the audience being asked specific questions as to whether these young women should be held accountable for their acts. Their response may shock you. It will certainly provide food for thought.

Jennifer Theby Quinn excels as the ringleader, Abigail, stuck in a life of servitude and yearning to feel genuinely loved. Her desperation drives the group more than any, but is she just a product of a repressive environment? Taylor Steward is splendid as Ann Putnam, jealous of anyone who would get in the way of her close friendship with Abigail, especially when she's unable to participate in a spell casting that occurs. Alicia Smith is very good as Mercy Lewis, who has her eyes on a young Quaker lad, not fully realizing that it isn't her decision to make. Samantha Moyers is sharp as Mary Warren, whose seems to have joined the group more as a result of peer pressure, since she tries so hard to be pious. Emily Jackoway sparkles as the impudent and young Betty Parris, who is included to silence her knowledge of their existence. Jacqueline Thompson is just terrific as Tituba, the slave who tells the girls stories that have been passed down through her own belief system. Thompson also handles the audience with expertise after the play ends and the questions are brought forth.

Julia Flood directs this piece with an intensity that really enhances its power and significance. David Blake's set design is very evocatively conceived, with gnarled, twisted limbs surrounding the clearing where the girls meet. Paige Seber adds evocative lighting, Lou Bird delivers period costumes that are spot on, and Rusty Wandall's sound provides another layer of atmosphere.

What will strike you most is how a young audience will respond to the questions that are posed. We're asked to decide whether each of the girls was innocent or guilty. Will the audience sympathize with them due to the environment they had to live within, or will they see the gossip, lies and accusations that were uttered to protect their own lives?

Find out what happens for yourself by seeing Metro Theater Company's engaging production of Afflicted: Daughters of Salem at the Missouri History Museum through March 22, 2015.



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