From Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost to Disney’s Fantasia and Broadway’s Damn Yankees, The Devil has been a popular character in books, music, film and stage works. He is often shown willing to grant a human whatever they may want in return for their soul. He is sort of like Aladdin’s Genie only with eternal damnation as the final reward. Playwright Jen Silverman has written a very funny, modern tinged take on Rowley, Dekker & Ford’s 1621 Jacobean play The Witch of Edmonton. The Geffen Playhouse is currently presenting Witch in their intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater.
Silverman’s puckish humor begins in the program’s listing of Time & Setting—“The Village of Edmonton, Then-ish. But equally of our moment.” The Devil, in the guise of the handsome and charismatic Mr. Scratch (Evan Jonigkeit), arrives in the village and soon has deals with Cuddy (Will Von Vogt), the fey Morris Dance fixated son of the local aristocrat Sir Arthur (Brian George) and with Frank Thorney (Ruy Iskandar), an impoverished young man given a chance for advancement by Sir Arthur. Both men are obvious in their wants and eager to sell their souls in exchange for their wish fulfillment.
Elizabeth Sawyer (Maura Tierney) is the village outcast, a loner whose solitude and standoffish nature have caused her village mates to label her “witch.” Her treatment by her neighbors should have made her bitter and vengeful and an eager buyer of the pestilences and other ills The Devil could unleash on them. But Scratch finds out Elizabeth is a hard sell, the most difficult he has ever encountered. As Scratch spends more and more time wooing Elizabeth for her soul, he becomes more interested in wooing her for her heart. Their attraction slowly grows as the solitary individuals learn it takes two.
Jonigkeit oozes charm and sensuality as Scratch. His chemistry with Tierney is palpable and the softening of her character’s defenses is lovely to watch unfold. Iskandar has the preening peacock nature of his character locked in while Von Vogt brings an array of conflicting emotions to Cuddy. Support is given by George and by Vella Lovell as the serving girl Winnifred. Marti Lyons has deftly directed and made sure her cast delivered all the various nuances of Silverman’s script. Jessica Lee Keller choreographed a celebratory dance for Cuddy that is more Flashdance than Morris as Von Vogt gives it his all—dumping a bucket of water over his head and gyrating in front of the audience, swirling his wet hair, dousing those in the first row. Oh What A Feeling! Witch is indeed bewitching, funny and oh so enjoyable.