GALA Theater at Tivoli Sqaure
Saturday July 20, 2:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 21, 2:15 p.m.
They say: “Join us in exploring the humanity of the afflicted girls from the Salem witch trials. A combination of history and fantasy, this new piece of theatre examines the psychological effects that fear, hysteria, female oppression and religious extremism breed.”
Rachel Kurzius’ Take: The Afflicted is an exercise in what author Ta-Nehesi Coates calls “muscular empathy.” Rather than villainize the adolescent girls who accused their townspeople of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trial, The Wandering Theatre Company looks to understand their shared humanity and how any of us might do the same thing in their circumstances.
When you enter the theater, the cast is already on stage engaging in their daily work. For most of the women of Salem, those tasks are folding clothes or knitting. One woman, staged in the foreground, is A Writer (Joelle Golda) pecking away at a typewriter. She serves as a framing device, connecting the audience to the population of Salem.
However, it is soon clear that A Writer, aided by the oh-so-writerly vices of cigarettes and whiskey, has a very different quest than The Wandering Theatre Company. While A Writer seeks specificity, as a historian would, the point of the play is to explore, through dialogue and motion, how similar these characters are to people we know.
This is where the play falls short—with A Writer constantly telling us how frustrated she is with what she doesn’t know, we don’t have enough time for the population of seventeenth-century Salemites to show us what they do know. I also came to understand to what these women were thinking about in terms of the future. Largely concerned with whether they’ll ever “find the one” or get married, I wondered whether they were colonial teens or avid readers of Cosmopolitan.
It’s entirely possible that these Walcott and Hubbard women would be Cosmo aficionados. In fact, it’s compelling that a cocktail of frustration, boredom, and the game Telephone could lead to these deadly accusations. But the most exciting part of our shared humanity is our variousness. The characters of Mercy Lewis (Caitlin Berger) and Mary Walcott (Libby McKnight) spoke to me the most because they felt like real people rather than archetypes.
I hungered for more movement, as well. When the slave Tituba (Claudia Givings) performs a solo dance that demonstrates her frustrations with her position in her society, I learned far more about her character than I did in her interactions with others.
The play represents an interesting project of exploring history through movement and ensemble-building, but I wish that their empathy had been more muscular.
See it if: Experimental inquiries into history are your style
Skip it if: You roll your eyes at stomping and chanting on stage