EVANSVILLE, Ind. - The University of Evansville Theater’s “Vinegar Tom” potently portrays the misogynistic hysteria during the witch trials of 16th and 17th century England.
Peppered with feminist motifs such as domestic violence and abortion, the play jars viewers with contemporary musical performances that lightheartedly address socially relevant issues surrounding women’s rights.
The all-student production, led by director Aaron Johnson, proved powerfully effective in guiding viewers through a polarizing plot centered on female characters who become outcast for failing to fall in line with the traditional lifestyles of the time.
Playwright Caryl Churchill penned “Vinegar Tom” in 1976 to expose and condemn sexism in society.
The wrath of a woman scorned vibrates throughout Hailey Lynn Suggs’ performance as the brazen Alice, whose promiscuous tendencies don’t fit the mold of her conservative small town.
When the drunken antics of Alice’s brash mother Joan (Erdin Schultz-Bever) and her penchant for vengeance arouse altercations with neighbors, they are accused of witchcraft.
Suggs magnificently masters Alice’s captivating quirks, producing a raw character whose strong will perseveres through oppression, abuse and betrayal.
Schultz-Bever’s charming doltishness brings a playful humor that compliments the play’s dark tone.
Possibly the most surprisingly compelling character is Susan (Brogan Lozano), who seeks out alternative medications to end an unwanted pregnancy. Lozano starts out small and feeble, painted as the conventional counterpart to Alice, but radiates searing emotion in climactic scenes of terrorizing agony and regret.
Glyne Pease displays wrenching bouts of frenzied delirium as Betty, a young woman subjected to barbarous medical treatments to cure her lack of interest to marry.
Top photo: Glyne Pease and Jake Sellers. Pictured here: Rhianna Gallow, Carter Caldwell and Natalie Tischler.
Rhianna Gallow and Carter Caldwell play unhappy couple, Margery and Jack, who begin to suspect witchery when their livestock begin to die of disease. Caldwell frighteningly flips from dope-ish and sweet to vicious and savage as the loss of his manhood and Gallow grows desperate as her churning fails to produce butter. Both actors deliver convincing, captivating depictions of a hardened wife and her sanctimonious spouse. In fact, the entire cast seemed fully conscious of their character’s psyche and how it should influence their behaviors.
Natalie Tischler had a warmth and maturity as the good-natured healer, Ellen, Jacob Sellers consistently tackled his dual role as both witch-hunter Packer and a sadistic doctor, and witch-hunter Maria Lozano gave an entrancingly pious monologue on the gruesome methods used to torture accused Wiccans.
Kit Bulla was both bellringer and the ominous, womanizing man in black or “devil.” Bulla’s role fell heavily in the acoustic musical numbers as he played guitar.
He, as well as the entire cast, harmonized and clanked chains to humorous and foreboding songs such as “Evil Women” and “If You Float,” but one of the best solos of the night was a haunting rendition by Maria Lozano.
It is clear that the Eves are to blame in this vivacious tale of hypocrisy and suppression, as it is pointed out that the lust of a woman makes her susceptible to the seduction of the dark arts. After all, women are inherently evil.