Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

WitchGeffen Playhouse
Review by Terry Morgan


Maura Tierney and Evan Jonigkeit
Photo by Jeff Lorch
When The Witch of Edmonton (written by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford) premiered in 1621, its tale of a woman selling her soul to the devil to gain revenge on her neighbors was played as a tragic drama. Jen Silverman's new version of the story, simply titled Witch, is very much a comedy, although tragedy is still present. The current production at the Geffen Playhouse is a witty, expertly acted delight, although not without a couple of minor missteps.

In 17th-century England, Elizabeth Sawyer (Maura Tierney) is shunned by the people of her small town who are convinced she's a witch. She is of course not a witch, and is instead a smart, self-reliant woman, but to the folk of that time, there's no distinction between those two things. So a junior devil named Scratch (Evan Jonigkeit), working his way through the town buying souls, thinks that perhaps Elizabeth might want to sell hers for some revenge. Meanwhile, in the local castle, Cuddy (Will Von Vogt), the firstborn son of nobleman Sir Arthur (Brian George), is very worried that the charismatic commoner Frank (Ruy Iskandar) is going to replace him as his father's heir, and Cuddy may be in the market for a sinister deal with Scratch.

Tierney does solid work as the unflappable Elizabeth, delivering her lines with deadpan panache. Jonigkeit is terrific and skillfully humorous as Scratch, transitioning from a smoothly manipulative salesman to somebody surprised by his own sincerity. Von Vogt almost steals the show with his hilarious yet intense portrayal of Cuddy ("Morris dancing is my life!"), a study of mounting frustration. Iskandar gives Frank just the right level of alpha male smugness and will to power that makes the character simultaneously amusing and chilling. Vella Lovell is strong as the lovelorn but not gullible Winnifred, the maid with secrets, and George adds unexpected shadings of sympathy to Sir Arthur.

Marti Lyons' direction is focused and energetic, and she gets superb work from her cast, especially Von Vogt and Jonigkeit. However, an interpretive dance sequence toward the end of the play intended to change up the production's style, tries too hard and unfortunately doesn't work. Silverman's writing is some of the funniest I've experienced in years; it's sharp, the pace is propulsive, and the character work is deft. However, the two parallel storylines never quite sync up to anything bigger, and the comedic material is more successful than the dramatic moments.

That being said, Witch is a very entertaining, wickedly funny play, the kind of thing playwrights might have sold their soul to have written.

Witch, through September 29, 2019, at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles CA. Tickets and information are available at www.geffenplayhouse.org or by calling 310-208-5454.

Playwright: Jen Silverman
Director: Marti Lyons
Lighting Designer: Keith Parham
Scenic Designer: Dane Laffrey
Sound Designer: Cricket S. Myers
Costume Designer: Danae Iris McQueen

Cast:
Sir Arthur Banks: Brian George
Frank Thorney: Ruy Iskandar
Scratch: Evan Jonigkeit
Winnifred: Vella Lovell
Elizabeth Sawyer: Maura Tierney
Cuddy Banks: Will Von Vogt




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