Witchcraft, Politics and Womanhood: “The Weird”

Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Presented by Off the Grid Theatre Company
Written by Kirsten Greenidge, Obehi Janice, Lila Rose Kaplan, and John Kuntz
Directed by Steven Bogart

September 1-16, 2017
Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
527 Tremont St. Boston, MA
Off the Grid on Facebook

Review by Polly Goss

(Boston, MA)The Weird is the latest devised piece from Off the Grid Theatre Company. Artistic Director Alexis Scheer, invited 4 different Boston based writers to compose pieces that tackle the intersection between belief in witchcraft and politics. An ambitious and intriguing premise, which unfortunately The Weird does not fulfill. The Weird`s cast includes many talented actors, who do a good job of adding authenticity to the often fragmented writing. However the chaotic and incoherent writing, means the show ultimately fails to tackle any one theme in depth and leaves the audience feeling unsatisfied and underwhelmed.

The Weird is composed of four short plays, performed by the majority female ensemble in the Calderwood Pavilion black box space. The four plays are loosely held together by the common themes of magic, witchcraft and an exploration of the conception of ’the female’. Gather and Era that bookmark the performance are both set in the present day and look at belief in magic through the lens of holistic remedies and self-care. The Ear of our Lord takes us back to the perverted Puritans of the 17th century. Letters from the Coven is the only play with a purely fantasy setting, it is set in a militarized boarding school for witches. Letters from the Coven was the weakest of the four pieces and the fantastical setting felt out of sync with the rest of the performance.

The Ear of our Lord plays on the familiar trope of the sexually repressed patriarchal Puritans, who preferred to burn women rather than admit they wanted to sleep with them. The (literal) climax of The Ear of our Lord is the hilariously absurd orgy, where Cotton Mather (Elliott Purcell) gyrates on his spinning bed with Goody Gloucester, Goody Good and the rest of the Puritan sisters, ’slut dropping’ around him. Whilst this short romp is enjoyable and showcases the talents of the ensemble and the costume designer Rachel Padula-Shufelt, the piece overall is a far cry from The Crucible that it parodies. The Ear of Our Lord amusingly mocks Massachusetts’ Puritan forefathers but fails to convey any real depth of feeling for these persecuted women.

Era Era stood out as the strongest of the four plays. Alexis Scheer and Kara Arena were excellent as the “Feminist as F***” podcasters, bringing great comedic warmth and conviction to these painfully familiar characters. Janice’s satirical humor included a depth to The Weird that was lacking in the other pieces. Amanda Collins brought an eerie vulnerability to the piece as the desperate caller-in, who’s clear cry for help goes unanswered by the upbeat and off the wall podcast hosts. It would have been interesting to have seen these characters develop, as the play started posed some thought provoking questions about the nature of online communities that were not fully resolved in this short piece.

Off the Grid Theatre Company seeks to push “the boundaries of artistic ability” through their work and The Weird is certainly offbeat. This time Off the Grid may have missed their mark, but the company showed great artistic potential and are certainly worth keeping an eye out for in the future.

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