Review: Witch (Writers Theatre)

| October 11, 2018

Audrey Francis and Ryan Hallahan star as Elizabeth and Scratch in Witch, Writers Theatre  




Written by Jen Silverman  
Writers Theatre, Glencoe (map)
thru Dec 16  |  tix: $35-$80  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Creepily entertaining world premiere


Jon Hudson Odom, David Alan Anderson, Arti Ishak and Steve Haggard star in Witch

Writers Theatre presents

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Right now, we could all use some big witch energy.

Fortunately, there’s no better place to find it than Writers Theatre’s terrific production of Witch. Just in time for Halloween – and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation – playwright Jen Silverman (The Roommate) imagines the devil in the form of a handsome young man, trying to work his dark magic on the small town of Edmonton. Where most period pieces get bogged down in elaborate costumes and language, Silverman takes a contemporary approach to an old tale, and it works. Mostly. Her theme of “burn it all down and change it” Steve Haggard and Arti Ishak star as Cuddy and Winnifred in Witch, Writers Theatrecertainly rings true, especially these past few weeks, but aren’t extended throughout the whole play. Despite this significant hiccup, Witch is well worth the trip to Glencoe.

When everyone thinks you’re a witch, why not go ahead and sell your soul? That’s the question Elizabeth (Steppenwolf ensemble member Audrey Francis) ponders throughout the play. Scratch (Ryan Hallahan) is making her an offer he thinks she can’t refuse. Except she does refuse, repeatedly, though he finds himself drawn to her and their strange, magnetic chemistry. Meanwhile, kitchen maid Winnifred (Arti Ishak) grits her teeth fetching food and newspapers for blowhard Sir Arthur (David Alan Anderson) while pining for her secret lover, the charismatic Frank Thorny (Jon Hudson Odom). Frank grew up poor and aims to become Sir Arthur’s adopted heir, but not if Sir Arthur’s biological son Cuddy (Steve Haggard) has anything to do with it. And of course, Scratch finds himself involved in this as well. After all, he is a salesman.

What’s distinctive about Witch is its language. Although the play is a period piece, inspired by Rowley, Dekker & Ford’s The Witch of Edmonton, Silverman’s dialogue is rooted firmly in the here and now. Characters use “like,” “fuck” and “BFD” with abandon, often talking in the singsong drawl typical of the modern age. Only Elizabeth’s words are more measured and deliberate – as the town outcast, living alone in her hut and fending off rumors, one misplaced syllable could have dire consequences. Though Silverman’s style takes a bit of getting used to, especially since the characters are clad in brocade, breeches and long skirts, Witch’s words have a rough beauty, initially throwing the audience for a loop, and then rooting them firmly in the here and now, using the sentence structure they know well.

Jon Hudson Odom, David Alan Anderson and Steve Haggard star in Witch, Writers Theatre CompanyRyan Hallahan  and Audrey Francis star as Scratch and Elizabeth in Witch at Writers Theatre Jon Hudson Odom, David Alan Anderson and Steve Haggard star in Witch at Writers TheatreRyan Hallahan and Steve Haggard star as Scratch and Cuddy in Witch, Writers Theatre

What’s missing in Witch is its failure to carry through a theme. During compelling monologues at the play’s beginning and end, characters muse the wisdom of destroying everything and creating a society from the ruins, of the general lack of hope. Certainly, contemporary audiences can deeply relate to these tenets. However, they’re not as prevalent in the middle of the show, as Elizabeth and Scratch’s banter becomes something deeper, and Frank taunts Cuddy while making false promises to Winnifred. Perhaps Silverman didn’t want to beat her viewers over the head with metaphor, but by scaling back during the meat of the story, the message is lost.

Director Marti Lyons is a natural fit for Silverman’s quick wit and dark humor, coaxing such inspired performances out of the cast and staging so beautifully, the playwright’s flaws are almost overwhelmed. Standouts include Francis’s Elizabeth, intelligent and always slightly skeptical of what she is told; Frank’s endlessly smooth Odom; and Ishak’s pissed-off chambermaid, ready and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Overall, Witch is a lot of moving parts comprising a beautiful whole, and a sad reminder that despite numerous advances, existential despair remains the same.

Rating: ★★★

Witch continues through December 16th at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor, Glencoe (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm & 7:30pm, select Sundays 2pm and/or 6pm.  Tickets are $35-$80, and are available by phone (847-242-6000) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 95 minutes without intermission. Recommended for ages 14 and up)

Ryan Hallahan  and Audrey Francis star as Scratch and Elizabeth in Witch, Writers Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




David Alan Anderson (Sir Arthur), Audrey Francis (Elizabeth), Steve Haggard (Cuddy), Ryan Hallahan (Scratch), Arti Ishak (Winnifred), Jon Hudson Odom (Frank Thorny), Sam Boeck, Kenn E. Head, Sam Hubbard, Annie Prichard (understudies)

behind the scenes

Marti Lyons (director), Yu Shibagaki (scenic design), Mieka van der Ploeg (costume design), Paul Toben (lighting design), Mikhail Fiksel (sound design), Katie Spelman (choreographer), Matt Hawkins (fight director), Cara Parrish (stage manager), Bobby Kennedy (dramaturg), Hassan Al Rawas (asst. director), Abigail Medrano (asst. stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Jon Hudson Odom, David Alan Anderson and Steve Haggard star in Witch, Writers TheatreSteve Haggard and Jon Hudson Odom star as Cuddy and Frank Thorny in Witch, Writers Theatre


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Lauren Emily Whalen, New Work, World Premier, Writers' Theatre

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