Is there something you want so badly that you’d give up your soul to get it? That is the question Jen Silverman poses in Witch, her devilishly clever, deliciously laugh-packed, decidedly dark look at gender, class, and the future of life as we know it, set way back in Jacobean England but told in a vernacular as contemporary as the latest Netflix hit.

The sexy man in black doing the propositioning is Scratch (Evan Jonigkeit, simply irresistible) and the first to get offered “endless riches and power” is Cuddy Banks (a fabulous Will Von Vogt), the aristocratic man-child least likely to produce an heir given his father Sir Arthur’s (Brian George, suave perfection) justified concern that sonny boy’s “favorite flavor might not be wife.”

Unfortunately for Cuddy, Daddy Dearest “is like obsessed with Frank Thorney. He found him in a field and like took him to our castle. And I’m like, ‘I am your son. What is the BFD with Frank?’”

And so, faced with the possibility that Sir Arthur might actually adopt said Frank (dynamic Ruy Iskandar) and make him his heir, Cuddy signs over his soul in exchange for young Mr. Thorney’s death.

Next to get offered his heart’s desire is Frank himself, though given the 100%-hetro hunk’s high moral character, Scratch may have a harder sell on his hands. After all, as the handsome if immodest hottie himself declares, “My whole life, people have been holding me up, saying ‘Look at Frank. He’s special! And I know that they’re right. There is something inside me that’s incredibly rare and incredibly special.”

Then again, why should someone as obviously unworthy as Cuddy get what could just as easily go to an adopted son, and so Frank too signs on the dotted line.

Last to to receive Satan’s visit is local pariah Elizabeth Sawyer (Maura Tierney, superb), who’s got her own bone to pick, though in her case its with the entire frickin’ town. (“Everywhere I go, people are like, “Oh, there’s the witch of Edmonton. You made my cow sick. You made my thatch burn.'”)

Unfortunately for Scratch, though, even when offered the chance to change her “relentlessly miserable” life, Elizabeth’s answer is an unequivocal “No,” leaving him with two devilish albeit diametrically opposed deals to set in motion and a decidedly attractive older woman’s soul he still hopes to call his.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, serving girl Winnifred (Vella Lovell, a dry delight) is rapidly wearying of having to obey Sir Arthur’s every whim while carrying her secret husband Frank’s secret child, said secret hubby is busy charming the master with his winning ways, and Cuddy is busy practicing to be the town’s most acclaimed “Morris dancer.” (Google it. Morris dancing turns out to have been a real Jacobean England thing.)

Not only does playwright Silverman’s latest serve up an abundance of laughs as might be surmised from the above plot preview if not from its 400-year-old source material (John Ford, Thomas Dekker, and William Rowley’s The Witch Of Edmonton), it scores equally high marks on the dramatic front with an unexpectedly touching love story and several powerful introspective monologs, and when the dramatic meets the comedic in Von Vogt’s tour-de-force Morris dance (choreographed by Jessica Lee Keller) and an extended bit of man-on-man combat (choreographed by Steve Rankin) as hilarious as it is hair-raising as it is devastating, the effect is absolutely stunning.

Blessed with an entirely new cast and design team for Witch’s Geffen Playhouse debut, its Chicago World Premiere director Marti Lyons brings out the best in all concerned, from her six splendid leads to a sensational production design by Dane Laffrey (set), Danae Iris McQueen (costumes), Keith Parham (lighting), Cricket S. Myers (sound), and Mikhail Fiskel (original music) that holds its own fair share of surprises and rewards.

Julie Ann Renfro is production stage manager. Casting is by Phyllis Schuringa, CSA.

Elizabeth Sawyer opens Witch with a question: “The single thing you should be asking yourself now is, do I have hope that things can get better?” Scratch ends it with an answer reflective of today’s increasingly at-risk world. The Geffen Playhouse’s 2019-2020 season is off to one hell of an exciting start.

follow on twitter small

Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood.

–Steven Stanley
August 30, 2019
Photos: Jeff Lorch

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.