Klaatu Barada Nikto: “The Puritans”

Produced by Sparkhaven Theatre Company
Part of the Camp Strangewood Series
Written by Phaedra ​Michelle Scott
Directed by Hannah Pryfogle
Compositions by Alissa Voth

July 19, 2020 at 8PM
To watch with captions during the live broadcast, head to sparkhaventheatre.com/watch-strangewood.
Sparkhaven on Facebook

Critique by Kitty Drexel

YOUTUBE — The Sparkhaven Theatre Company’s anticipated series Camp Strangewood opened last Sunday, July 19 at 8PM. It’s fans gathered on YouTube to watch the first installation, The Puritans. Similar to Sparkhaven’s previous endeavors, it was spoopy, silly and uncannily relatable. 

The Camps Strangewood theme song by Alissa Voth , as the kids say, slaps*. The lyrics and its pop stylings make it catchy. The animation by Savannah Pryfogle was simple but effective. This brief intro is a mixture of Salute Your Shorts meets that other Sabina the Teenage Witch. As the music played, I really did want to “leave the normie world behind.” 

On the night of a full moon, five campers brave mosquitoes, cool dad counsellors, and consequences to meet after lights out to conduct a ritual to save the world. Young witches Hecate (Micaleen Rogers), Beatrix (Lizzie Milanovich), Theodora (Tonasia Jones), Gullveig (Simon Rogers), and Sybil (Blair Nodelman) are going to use the Strangewoodnomicon to protect the camp from monsters. Each year, a coven tries but fails. This year is their year! Watch to see if the witches save the camp or if they allow their petty, teenage squabbles to mess it up.  

The Puritans is on its way towards being an excellent play. Right now, it’s deciding if it wants to be 40-minutes or 90-minutes long. It is up to playwright Phaedra ​Michelle Scott to make some edits or additions. As things stand, this play is too heavy to lift its own weight. 

The Puritans has a strong start. Scott creates her world from ours as soon as the play begins. She establishes the Strangewoodnomicon as an archaic mcguffin immediately. Zoom is allowed to exist to the campers. Scott even gives us religion of a sorts: the campers engage in magic as practicing believers.   

The magic ritual incorporated into the play resembles factual wiccan ritual but these rituals are understandably condensed for the play: a circle isn’t cast; the elements aren’t called; a sacrifice is made but the kids mess it up; there’s no breaking of bread. A bell is wrung. A cleansing is performed. One of the witches says, “this witch stuff seems kinda easy.” It isn’t supposed to be. 

The inclusion of a brief group meditation gives the sequence the false severity of a Unitarian Universalist wicca-appreciation Sunday night worship service. That seems about right for teenage witches. Based on what I recall from my days as a solitary practitioner. 

We meet the coven of witches and know exactly how to frame them within our own experiences. They are young, impetuous, and bravely making clumsy strides toward adulthood.These characters have their own syntax and shared language. They interact like old friends who only see each other four weeks out of every summer but share a bond. They think they’re re-inventing magic because they’ve read a couple of websites, and bought incense that one time from a headshop. It’s easy to see oneself in them. 

Unfortunately, The Puritans suffers from an overwhelming amount of exposition. In the arc of the story, the expository intro into this world and the rising action are used to explain everything in this play from the rules of the Strangewoodnomicon, to how magic works, to the roles of the witches, to their relationships, to the setting of the play, to the hows and why of monsters, to the intimate details of a mishap with a rooster. And we are told, not shown. It’s exhausting how much Scott explains to us when she could just assume our intelligence. 

This great amount of exposition leaves no time for a satisfying climax – and we all want a satisfying climax… in our storytelling. The climax happens so quickly that the denouement is rushed. The denouement is the warm cuddle after the storytelling. You don’t want to rush it. This is especially true when *SPOILER ALERT* the play doesn’t resolve prettily.  

That isn’t to say that there isn’t room for all of this exposition in The Puritans. There would be if it were longer and performed live. As it is, The Puritans contains too much for a Zoom performance. It either needs to be whittled down for live streaming and/or expanded for the stage. This version looks unfinished. 

Scott has a lot of great ideas bonded together in this play. She has a great cast who seem to be picking up what she’s putting down. The creative crew agrees with her message. It’s time to apply for a Bob Jolly Charitable Trust grant, and work it out once people can socialize in rehearsal groups again. 

Please donate to Sparkhaven Theatre! Give now (if you can) so theatre can exist after the pandemic.

Tales from Camp Strangewood is the recipient of a 2020 Transformative Public Art Grant from the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture.​ Hooray! 

Camp Strangewood continues! 
A triptych of campers sneaks out after dark to watch a banned horror movie and becomes haunted by faulty wiring, national tragedy, and a very fussy clown.

*RIP “slaps,” TOD: July 22, 3:24PM 

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