Ocala Civic Theatre’s new show, “Witch,” brings smart, snappy dialogue to an intimate, in-the-round setting.
Joan Elizabeth McDonald as Elizabeth Sawyer rehearses a scene from “Witch” at the Ocala Civic Theatre in Ocala on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. The play runs from Oct. 5-15 and will be performed in-the-round among the audience at the NOMA Black Box at the Reilly Arts Center. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
What’s your soul worth? That’s the question weighing on the minds of four residents of the small, country village of Edmonton. Everyone’s hiding something, and devil himself is here to make deals.
The setting is, according to playwright Jen Silverman, “then-ish, but equally of our moment.”
For the audience, that means we get all the best parts of a Jacobean period piece—ornate costumes, from oversized Elizabethan ruff collars to brocade vests, lace cuffs and laced-up corsets, with the straightforward settings of a cottage and a castle, complete with silver chalices at the banquet table—with none of the “thees” and “thous” of Shakespearean dialogue. Instead, the 2018 reimagining of the 1621 play “The Witch of Edmonton” uses contemporary language to engage modern audiences with the original work’s timeless themes.“I think it’s brilliant because it’s not just of our time, of the moment,” said Greg Thompson, Ocala Civic Theatre executive and artistic director and the play’s director. “She does this wonderful thing of putting one foot back in history and one foot in the present,” he said of Silverman. “She’s hitting on so many issues that are right now.”
Is Elizabeth really a witch? Or is she just the victim of small-town gossip? OCT veteran Joan Elizabeth McDonald plays the lead female with a quiet strength, wry humor, and just a shred of hope that women can achieve a more meaningful fate than the 17th-century standard. She’s witty, if not worldly, an intellectual equal to the uninvited visitor at her cottage, Scratch.
He’s a smooth-talking salesman who’s traveled the world, and OCT newcomer Brian Creary’s Scratch is devilishly handsome, powerfully persuasive and surprisingly sympathetic. But no matter how many “off the clock” conversations he’s willing to have, he’s here to close some deals.
Over at the castle, Sir Arthur has realized his only son, Cuddy, isn’t showing any inclination toward marrying and producing an heir. The show’s aristocrat, played by familiar OCT face Wayne T. Dilts, is doing his best to be a patient, single father. But the young dandy is more interested in folk dancing with his buddies than being fixed up with single girls and the old man is getting tired of waiting.
Returning OCT actor Christian Gonzales is an exuberant Cuddy, the spoiled only child who is struggling to be true to himself without disappointing his dad. It doesn’t help that he’s constantly being compared to Frank, who Sir Arthur also thinks of like a son. The tension between the two comes to blows, fueled by mutual hate, Cuddy’s jealousy and some even deeper feelings.
Fresh from OCT’s “Sweeney Todd,” Janik Buranosky plays Frank with impressive likeability for an unabashed opportunist who sees himself as “special” and holds nothing sacred, not even marriage or fatherhood.
The sweet but salty Winnifred is played by Cheyenne Dever, an OCT veteran. This servant girl has secrets—and standards.Performed in-the-round at the Reilly Arts Center’s NOMA Black Box, “Witch” puts audiences up close to the actors for a unique perspective that OCT theatergoers have never before experienced. This is the first show in the Rattlebox series, which will continue in April 2024 with “Stage Kiss.” Thompson calls the new endeavor a “win-win for everybody on every level.”
“One of the things that is so good for actors is to do theater in different styles and also in different configurations,” Thompson said. “This is actually a great educational experience for our actors; it’s going to grow them. But then what a gift back to our community, our audiences, for our actors to grow their skills. We’re grateful to the Reilly that we have this opportunity.”
Two special events will allow audiences to dive deeper into the play. On Sunday, Oct. 8, attendees are invited to stay after the 2 p.m. matinee for a talkback, or Q&A, with the cast and director. On Saturday, Oct. 14, OCT will host Off Book at 12:30 p.m. at the Reilly Arts Center. Billed as a “no reading required book club,” Off Book will be facilitated by R.J. Jenkins, board president of the Marion County Literacy Council.
OCT rates this show PG-13 and recommends it for those high school age and older.
“Witch” is live on stage Oct. 5-15 in the NOMA Black Box at the Reilly Arts Center, 500 NE Ninth St. For tickets and more information, visit reillysartscenter.com or call (352) 351-1601.