Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Witch of Blackbird Pond"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Beverly Creasey

Soaring Witches
at Wheelock

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

The Wheelock Family Theatre has been presenting thought provoking theater for twenty-two years ... and their current show "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" is a fine example of provocative material made both accessible and riveting by a top notch cast.

"Witch.." is a sturdy tale of the dangers of intolerance a la "The Crucible" --- but Y. York's adaptation of the Elizabeth Speare novel has a happy ending of sorts when justice prevails (to a degree) and the righteous are rewarded. Even children as young as five were spellbound by the dramatics on stage.

Katrina Toshiko is the headstrong teenager from Barbados who comes to live with Puritan relatives in Connecticut. It's 1687 and when smallpox decimates the colony the elders blame witchcraft for the virus. Speare loads the story with moral lessons --- not to mention a most peculiar lessons on husband-snagging which will have Feminists fainting in the aisles --- but Director James P. Byrnes' solid cast gets the message over in style.

Byrnes' ingenious expansive set-pieces convert with ease to a 17th Century meeting house or a garden cottage or puritan living quarters; but hanging in place of the sky is a giant mural with the names and images of martyrs to the cause of intolerance --- people like Sacco & Vanzetti, Leonard Peltier, The Rosenbergs, Matthew Sheppard -- even Joan of Arc.

Every character, from malicious Puritan to gentle Quaker is elegantly portrayed. Each is fascinating: Neil Gustafson gives a powerful performance as a zealot of a reverend who sees witches everywhere. Kippy Goldfarb gives a stirring performance as a wife who will follow her husband's lead only so far.

Toshiko manages to convey the heroine's spunk and backbone with considerable charm, and we're not surprised she finds her match in Shelly Bolman's principled seafarer. Stephen Libby is wryly amusing as a reticent suitor, and Jeff Robinson towers as the noble uncle. Monique Nicole McIntyre warms the stage as the well meaning aunt, Saba Mwine suffers heroically as her faithful cousin and Julianne Gale gets under your skin as the vengeful cousin. Jane Staab gives an understated performance as the old Quaker woman branded for her non-violent beliefs and Veronica Maxfield purrs and stretches as Staab's beloved animal companion.

History, suspense and fine ensemble work. The Wheelock Family Theatre delivers the humanity of the Speare novel, and tells a tale which resonates today.

"The Witch of Blackbird Pond" (1 - 24 November)
200 The Riverway, BOSTON MA
1 (617)879-2235

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide