Review of ‘The Witch House’

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 2/5 » Watchable)

(“The Witch House” plays at The Garage in San Francisco from January 16 through January 27.)

Morgan Bassichis‘s new play, “The Witch House”, premiering at The Garage, seems to be two plays at once, one of which is very interesting.

At its start, young Tracy, a boy of 10 or so, is setting up a “witch stand” to practice magic. An eccentric child, this is his version of a lemonade stand. He is soon joined by his pal, Tingle, another pre-adolescent witch. Morgan Bassichis and Derik K. Cowan are delightful as the two youngsters, convincing and witty. The scene is a gem. The boys’ outsider status is well portrayed and full of metaphorical resonance, but the accurate portrayal of contemporary wiccan culture is also a treat, and greatly amusing for those in the know.

Tracy (Morgan Bassichis) performs magic for T-Rex (Tyler Null) in "The Witch House".
Tracy (Morgan Bassichis) performs magic for T-Rex (Tyler Null) in “The Witch House”.

The cauldron bubbles thickly when older boy T-Rex hires Tracy to help him fix things with his angry girlfriend. Tyler Null‘s characterization of the confused adolescent ready to try anything is on target, and the complex, erotic, puzzled relationship amongst the three boys is beautifully written and sensitively played by all three actors.

During these expository scenes the stage also contains a group of women (“The Bees”), who are piled upstage in what is clearly evocative of a stack of corpses. One naturally understands that these are the dead witches of colonial Salem.

Tingle and Tracy have plans to spend the Summer Solstice at the Witch House in Salem—a highlight of their year. Tracy insists that T-Rex come along as well. It is there that the Salem witches seemingly return to life, perhaps possessing the boys, and dance and speak of their history and thoughts. It is also here that something goes awry with the play.

As The Bees come to life, there is some lovely choreography and effective acting, but the script becomes bogged down in abstractions about queer theory and such, and, frankly, for this reviewer, the play couldn’t bear the burden of all that intellectual gravitas and “The Witch House” collapsed under its weight. As a result, the later part of the evening was far less engaging than the first, in spite of some very effective moments.

There is quite a bit of excellent writing in “The Witch House” and the story of contemporary boys possessed by the Salem witches is intriguing. With some aggressive pruning and rethinking of the second half, “The Witch House” could develop into a truly excellent play. It certainly deserves further productions.

In fairness, and to balance my critique, I should point out that this production has found an enthusiastic audience among members of the queer pagan community and all performances are sold out (a waiting list is being kept).

For further information, click here.

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“The Witch House” by  Morgan Bassichis, produced by SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts as part of the Garage’s AIRspace Residency Program for Queer Performance. Director: Anthony Julius Williams. Costume Designer: Phoebe Woerner. Lighting Designer: Curtis Overacre. Movement Witch: Andrea Cortes-Juarbe. Set Designer: Nave Fortin. Sound Designer: Alex Cox.

Tracy: Morgan Bassichis. Tingle: Derik K. Cowan. T-Rex: Tyler Null. 

The Bees:

Bridget Bishop: Aylin Guvene. Dorcas Good: Kimberly Legg. Mary Black: Star Amerasu. Susannah Freedman: Sarah Osborne. Tituba/Melissa: Amy Marie Haven.

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