I love the director and the entire cast and crew of The Witches’ Quorum — including all the designers and the handsome ticket-takers — because they stand on the winning side of what seemed an experiment in finding out how good a production you can get out of David Eshelman’s lousy script. For Quorum is, in fact, a decent evening of theater, built as if by magic on a play that seems to have nothing to recommend it but the effort that talented people expended upon it.
I love Tracey Johnston-Crum. She sheds her customary glamor and portrays a frowsy hag with commitment and comic genius. I haven’t seen everything this actor has done, but her work in Quorum is the best I have seen. Get an actor out of her comfort zone and you might get fire.
I love Steph Anie, for her presence on stage is so majestic that even silly lines in a silly context have weight enough that you stick with them, believing the actor that they will, eventually, lead somewhere.
I love Lauren Bacchus because her magnificent set continues the Magnetic Field’s tradition of getting the absolute most out of that problematic space.
Let’s see if I’ve got the story right: Some witches in 17th century Jamestown (Jamestown? really?) wish to call upon the spirit of Virginia Dare to lead them out of the wicked Christian patriarchy into Croatoan, a paradise-country named after a word carved into a tree by the vanished settlers of Cape Hatteras. The problem is that they need a quorum to raise the right powers, and the local witches keep getting burned by the Reverend Mr. Camden (the lusciously sleazy Scott Fisher).
So Mistress Hibbins (Johnston-Crum) and the slave woman, Cassy (Steph Anie), contrive to enlist the following, at various times, for the remainder of their quorum: Pocahontas (Kathryn Temple); the conveniently white-skinned Indian princess Ayacanora (Lisa Smith); and the transplanted Puritan-virgin Freelove Harrington, played by Magnetic regular Lucia Del Vecchio. Both Hibbins and Cassie are in danger of being burned as witches (which they are) if they don’t play their cards right. They all end up running through the woods believing that “lesbianism” is the salvation of the world.
Lesbianism may in fact be the salvation of the world (worth a try, anyway), but there’s nothing in this play that will win converts to it. Lesbianism ends up looking just as dumb as everything else.
Absurdism — or, to use the phrase one heard bandied about in the Magnetic lobby, “the ridiculous” — is a default setting for tyro playwrights who understand the power of language but really not what to do with it. It’s a playground for untried talent; there’s nothing to call a playwright’s vision to account. It’s just one silly thing rammed up against another. Any humor arises from jarring juxtapositions, not from any unfolding understanding of the human condition. There are laughs in Quorum as there are laughs in a room full of tickling machines and cream-pie launchers. It’s the laughter of the nerves rather than the understanding. A man dressed as a peacock holding a jar of peanut butter while conjugating verbs in Latin (this doesn’t actually happen in the play, but it might have) is funny, in a way, but not in a very commendable or durable way. Quorum seems content to have hit the level of frat house skit night. I don’t deny I got a kick out of it. I also get a kick out of those videos where people get hit in the crotch and fall on patches of ice.
The question in my head is, why this play and not another? What is the principle of selection? It was written by a friend? Or maybe the company gave it to itself, as I suggest above, as a sort of experiment in how closely disaster may be courted and yet avoided?
A company that prides itself on doing exclusively original work might resolve to be more judicious in its choices. Some portion of the destiny of the theater to come may rest on those choices. This time, The Magnetic Field has made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but I wonder what would have happened had they begun with silk.
The Magnetic Field’s next offering is fix, and evening of short plays by Magnetic regulars John Crutchfield, Lucia Del Vecchio and Julian Vorus.
The Witches’ Quorum, by David Eshelman, stars Tracey Johnston-Crum, Steph Anie, Lisa M. Smith, Lucia Del Vecchio, Scott Fisher and Kathryn Temple, and is directed by Steven Samuels and produced by Chall Gray, with sets and props by Lauren Bacchus, costumes by Xanath Espina, lighting by Ryan Madden and sound by Brian Claflin. Performances through June 25, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (Late-night shows at 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.) For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.themagneticfield.com or call 257-4003. The Magnetic Field is located at 372 Depot St. Suite 50.