Witching Hour


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Halloween is just on the horizon and the idea of witches might summon images of black cloaks, pewter cauldrons, and malicious cackling. With this imagery in mind, most will find it easy to forget those accused of witchcraft  hundreds of years ago.

Birth Witches will open at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert St. Performances will continue through Nov. 3, with 2 p.m. matinees on Sunday. Admission ranges from $15 to $30.

The play, set in London, deals heavily with the rise of doctors, a position that was relatively new in 1606. These new doctors demanded that they be allowed into the birthing room, a place traditionally reserved for midwives. In this conflict, many midwives were accused of witchcraft.

“I’ve always been interested in the witch hunts and the insidious nature of fear,” said Jennifer Fawcett, the playwright. “[And] how people have been persecuted because of their fear of the unknown.”

Being a new production, Fawcett worked closely with the cast and crew to ensure the best possible transition from print to the stage.

“When it’s a new play, the material is untested. I’m able to see how the director and actors approach the material and offer help,” Fawcett said. “Theater is a collaboration, a step-by-step process. We continued to refine the scenes and make adjustments until we got what you’re seeing on stage.”

The challenge is no less daunting for the actors who are the first to inhabit their characters and have no other performances to draw from.

“It’s rewarding and terrifying,” said Ron Clark, the actor portraying the priest in the play. “The only guidelines are the work on the page and the other collaborators that, in this case, have been inspiring.”

It’s through the effort of those both on and off stage that Fawcett’s vision is able to come to life.

“The play deals a lot with conflicting ideas,” said Leda Hoffmann, the play’s director. “It has parallels with modern politics and birth today.”

In spite of the setting’s high-tension climate, one of the play’s central characters, Meg, continues to pursue her goal of becoming a traditional healer.

“The play is really a coming-of-age story for Meg,” said Dorothy Jolly, who portrays the character. “She can be fierce and even confrontational when she sees something as not fair.”

Given when and where the play takes place, it’s easy to imagine it being overwhelmingly dark, but it is not without lighter moments.

One being the love story at the center of the play.

“Even though we’re speaking in old English and dressed the way they were hundreds of years ago, you’re still watching two people fall in love 20 feet away from you,” Jolly said.

The cast and crew want the audience to leave the theater with something to think about.

“I think plays need to end with some hope looking toward the future,” Fawcett said. “My hope is that [the audience] will think of the connections [to the present] and have gone on an emotional journey with the characters.”

Birth Witches
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday through Nov. 3, with 2 p.m. Sunday performances
Where: Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert
Admission: Ranges from $15 to $30

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