Theatre by Numbers
September 4, 2014
Company: Babes With Blades Theatre Company
Venue: West Stage of the Raven Theatre Complex
Die Roll: 20
Jeff Goode is perhaps most famous for his "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues", but he has a large number of plays under his belt, and many of them are of the distinctly cheesy and campy style one might expect from amateur theatre. Titles like "Yes, Svetlana, there is a Grandfather Frost", "Dracula Rides Again", and "Ring Cycle! The Musical" are now joined by "Witch Slap!", which is the newest offering by Babes With Blades Theatre Company. The female-centric stage combat-oriented troupe tackles a script that feels predictable and lazy in its attempts at humor.
The story is that of the Crone (played by Kimberly Logan) and her apprentice Novella (brought to life by Loren Jones). The tale is set during the Salem Witch Trials, but is not of them. For, the actual witches are too smart to be caught and tried for witchcraft. A local woman (Morgan Manasa) creates havoc when she leads a violent mob directly to the front door of the Crone, where a bunch of witches have gathered together for a meeting. In a desperate scheme to save all of the building's inhabitants, the Crone leads her compatriots through a ritual that eventually puts her into a place of power and brings her youth again. Throughout, one can see that hilarity is supposed to ensue.
What is sad to me is that there is the kernel of a good play somewhere in here. The idea for the show is a bit of a gimmick, but once you get past that, the scheme devised by the Crone is a major plot twist, and one that has great potential. The inclusion of an inept apprentice lends itself to comedic situations. The presence of a saucy, gypsy-like witch (played by Alison Dornheggen) brings a bit of the dangerous appeal/sexiness of witchery to the show. And there is potential in having Minerva (an Angelina-Jolie-as-Maleficent type, played by Stefanie Johnsen) confronting her own former protégé.
Goode's script isn't up to the task of bringing the potential of the ideas together into a well-crafted piece. It feels like the text should have had at least two more rounds of workshopping before it hit the public. A rewrite or two would have really helped. As would have an editor. One might have heard the maxim that things are funny in threes. Goode apparently never did. And he also apparently only thought that things that aren't funny to begin with will gain traction with repetition. Crone admonishes Novella for not studying harder so many times that one can guess where that line will fit into each exchange. If you've ever attended a party and been around that guy who repeats the same punchline three or four times because he's not sure if he was heard, or if the rest of the group didn't get the joke the first couple of times, then you know what it's like to sit in the audience for this show.
The fights within the piece weren't up to the company's normal standards, either. I went in excited by the fact that the combat was designed by Maureen Yasko, who I have enjoyed as a performer in past Babes shows. She is a very convincing fighter in her own right. However, her choreography didn't sing to me. I had a hard time figuring out if it was the design or the execution. The fights all took place in that awkward range of speed that we often use in rehearsal to keep things overly safe while we're learning the sequences. In my rehearsals, I would have called it about 50%. Some of the better fights were at about 75% of what I would consider show speed. Sadly, all of them were performed in a manner that made the moves seem raw, and not in a "gritty" kind of way, but an "unfinished" sort of way.
I guess, basically, that's my overall take-away from this show. It needs improvement. There are really good aspects: Kimberly Logan pretty much carries the show and is brilliant in both incarnations of the Crone. But, for each positive there is an equal, if not much larger, negative: Minerva's death and eventual return to the show as a zombified version of herself only distracts from the true action of the show. There are parts that are funny, but they can't counter the effects of the rest of the play.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: Slow, clunky combat and slower, clunkier dialogue fail to bewitch.
RATING: d6 Ð "Has Some Merit"