REV Theatre Company’s rendition of The Witch of Edmonton at Laurel Hill Cemetery is classic theater modernized seamlessly for the 21st century. The original 1621 play (by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, and John Ford) was based on the true story of a woman who was tried and executed for practicing witchcraft.
Comfortable on the graves
As the sun gradually set over the Laurel Hill Cemetery on opening night, I found the walk to my seat to be already different than that of any other theater production I’ve ever attended. After checking in, I walked up a paved path lined with several candle lights. To each side of me were hundreds of differently shaped headstones, flowers, and trees. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the crowd was not lined up in uncomfortable chairs but sprawled out on picnic blankets and beach chairs. Families and friends were sharing wine, snacks, and conversation. It was nothing less than picturesque. The stage was a small rectangular patch of grass lined with two long benches.
When the performance began, silence overcame the crowd as eerie music started to play from the speakers. The cast, wearing all black, walked out slowly onto the stage and sat on the benches in unison.
Two marriages, an angry woman, and the devil
The play quickly develops into a melodrama, centering on a man who is recently married, in secret, to his lover and is later forced to marry another woman of higher stature to erase his father’s debt. The play also follows Elizabeth Sawyer (Susan Moses), persecuted by her Puritanical community because she is a poor and powerless woman. Sawyer, treated as a witch, takes revenge by enlisting the help of the devil, in the guise of a black dog.
A couple of scenes into the play, the devil (Rudy Caporaso) makes his entrance with a hilariously captivating song and dance number satirizing Little Red Riding Hood. He is portrayed as a dog wearing a corset, skimpy underwear, wig, and furry tail.
The show is an immersive production, and during intermission Caporaso walked through the crowd in costume and in character, flirting with audience members while twirling his tail. He barked playfully and panted with his tongue hanging out, craving attention and affection from all.
While the first act is filled with adultery, deceit, love, and devotion, the second act transitions into a deeper story of tragedy and horror, all kicking off with the fog machine. By this time, the sun has fully set, leaving the glowing moon and dragonflies shining over the production to enhance the stage lights.
Lust, revenge, and murder are all unleashed as the devil hunts his prey through the town of Edmonton. The witch and devil had a playful, easy chemistry that made destruction look innocent.
The production skillfully weaves together tragedy, comedy, horror, and romance. Throughout all of the gruesomeness, the play felt oddly romantic, telling a tale of love gone awry.
REV Theatre Company’s provocative adaptation of The Witch of Edmonton boldly tests the limits of its audience. The backdrop of the cemetery at night matches the dark content of the play perfectly, making for a Philly experience you won’t want to miss.
What, When, Where
The Witch of Edmonton. Adapted by Rosemary Hay and Rudy Caporaso, directed by Rosemary Hay. Through July 20, 2019, at Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. (215) 228-8200 or thelaurelhillcemetery.org.
Laurel Hill Cemetery may not be easily accessible to folks who have trouble navigating grassy or uneven grounds.