Sunday, April 8, 2018

Play a Day: The Witches' Tower

James Bartelle
For Sunday I read The Witches' Tower by James Bartelle, and available at New Play Exchange.

The past several year, the family has stopped into Salem, Massachusetts on our way up the coast the Maine. Our friend Kim lives there, and though we have often stopped by for a couple hours, last year we stayed for a couple days and had the opportunity to take out time to explore the city.

While there are a great many beautiful and interest things to take in and enjoy about Salem, the real fun is with the witches. Arthur Miller's The Crucible brought the Salem Witch Panic of 1692 to vibrant life, and arguably shaped the discussion we continue to have about those events and that time.

He was comparing that witch hunt to the "Red Manic" panic of his time. However, his analogy can suffer when you point out the simple fact, as he did in an article in The Guardian in the year 2000, that "there were communists and there never were witches." He goes on to argue, however, that his point was not the existence of a perceived threat but what the actual threat was, what was "the content of their menace?"

New Orleans playwright James Bartelle spins an original, compact and compelling tale of persecuted witches in a classic, lyric style. We are left to imagine whether the accused are truly servants of a malevolent power, or if their only crime is that of being women, punished for actions inherent in the human condition, actions for which no man in their time, or ours, would receive comparable treatment.

To have lost a mother in the course of childbirth? Would a male doctor be imprisoned for this? To have had an extramarital relationship? You could be President of the United States.

Bartelle has a way with repetition which is poetic, the condemned women's ruminations either actual spells, or an expression of madness imposed through institutionalized oppression. A powerful period piece reflecting our modern moment.

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