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Sitting in the Dark

The Women in Red

Iconic women featured in the Witching Hour's "Bitch"
The Women in Red
Published on March 27, 2011

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All of our acts in life are preordained,” we’re told in the opening line of Bitch, the Witching Hour’s post-feminist homage to the place of women in pre-feminist history.

The late-night company of the Blue Barn Theatre, the Witching Hour, concocts a special brew of “double, double, toil and trouble” devised theatre, the genre where the collaborative itself authors the work.

What is also usually preordained in devised theatre and especially at the Witching Hour is that some odd number of the cauldron-stirrers may also be counted among the performers, which is not the case this time in the Kirstin Kluver, Kathleen Lawler and Jennifer Pool-penned Bitch.

Bitch

by The Witching Hour
Blue Barn Theatre
614 South 11th Street
(402) 345-1576
Through April 2
 event details

From Marie Antoinette (Shannon Jaxies) to Mata Hari (Sara O’Neill) and from Mary Surratt (Meganne Horracks playing the women convicted on flimsy evidence as being a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth) to Anne Askew (Rachel Samson playing the Late Middle Ages Protestant condemned as a heretic), Bitch could have easily appropriated as a tag line American historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quip that “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

Each woman enjoys brief flashes of brilliance, but triumph inevitably yields to tragedy in the form of the guillotine, the noose, the firing squad or the stake.

The men of Bitch — there are four in the 11-member cast — represent oppressive power, corruption and avarice, usually in the guise of church, state or the church state.

Costumed head to toe in blood red garments (check that, forget the toes, the cast is barefoot throughout … never trust a writer) overlapping narratives unfold in the dark. A Tarantino-esque style that has the chronology of stories determined by tossing them in a blender only serves to increase the tension as each women comes to accept her fate.

Jaxies, Ashley Spessard (multiple roles, including Margaretha Zelle, the given name of the woman who would become the notorious Mata Hari) and Eric Grant-Leanna (multiple roles, including Louis XVI) are particularly fine.

Acting in other places can be a bit uneven, a matter that just might be attributed to the lack of author/player overlap mentioned above. Devised theatre is driven by a deeply personal and experiential creative process. The absence of authors as actors may here allow meaning to be lost in translation.

As with all Witching Hour productions, one is left to relish their uncanny ability to evoke an assortment of memorably frozen-in-time tableaus.

Time seems to stop when the entire ensemble is ablaze as a human fire lapping at the feet of a heretic tied to the stake. A cacophony of offstage whispers thunder (what special devilry is afoot that whispers can be so deafening?) when an assassin’s alleged abettor is interrogated. The dull, steady throb of a heartbeat quickens and increases in volume, just as does yours when a torrent of frenetic words-words-words reaches a fever pitch.

Original music by Amanda Miller adds a layer of vocals, humming, chanting and even whistling over Jaxies’ found music to form a soundscape that is as haunting as it is humorous.

The drop-dead moment of the Jennifer Pool-directed evening? My fave would be the mind-bending torture scene when … no, not so fast. You’ll see, gentle reader, you’ll see.

Clocking in at exactly one hour, Bitch races to a perfectly bookended finish just in time for a midnight dismissal, one that sends you out onto the cobblestone streets to confront the witching hour.

VerstehenDavid Williams is a longtime performing arts critic whose ramblings have appeared in such publications as The Reader and The City Weekly, among several others.