Student-Directed Play, Vinegar Tom, Opens

By Krista Thorp ’15

Krista Thorp was the costumer for this production.    

This Friday and Saturday, this term’s student production, Vinegar Tom, will premiere. The directors, Abby Beggs and Eric Marlin, started rehearsals at the beginning of term.

The show is by Caryl Churchill and set in 17th century England. It follows the story of a community in their daily struggles, which, upon the entrance of a famous witch hunter, quickly become blamed on the poor women in the town. The show includes interruptions in the form of songs. “The interesting thing about this play is that we get our naturalistic scenes about witch trials in the 17th century, and they’re interspersed with songs that function as  very sharp feminist commentary that’s set in the contemporary time. One of the biggest questions that always comes up with anyone who does this play is that they always want to cut the songs, because they feel like they aren’t necessary, they feel they’re too pointed, too obvious, too bitchy,” Marlin said. However, Beggs, Marlin, and the original composer feel it is important to force people to draw the connection.

The play consists of seven women (Laura Miller, ‘16, Catherine Weingarten, ‘14, Erica Baffa, ‘13, and Isabel Miller, ‘15, Kim Kirchner, ’13, Maia Villa, ‘15 and Caitlin Brzezinski ‘14) and two men (Patrick Harnett-Marshall, ’16 and Rory Cullen, ’15). This is different than the usual gender ratio for plays. Since Angels in America in the Fall of 2011, there’s been a move towards casts that are more evenly distributed or that have more female actresses. The student production from last term, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, had a similar makeup, with two men and four women. “One thing that really pisses me off,” said Beggs, “and I’m not ragging on the theater department here, this is about the theater world in general, is that there are a lot of plays out there with a lot of men in them and not a lot of women, even though the ratio on this campus is 30% men and 70% women, […] so [choosing a show with more women] was a conscious decision for Eric and I.”

Many of Churchill’s plays have a feminist slant, and Vinegar Tom is no exception. It was created with the British theater company Monstrous Regiment in 1976, and deals specifically with the problems presented to women at the start of the women’s rights movement during the seventies. “The sad part about this play is that it was written forty years ago and it’s still relevant today, and this is when the second wave of feminism was going on. Churchill was a radical Marxist feminist, and the fact that the things a radical Marxist feminist was saying in the 1970’s are still relevant today is really sad,” said Beggs. The play pulls text not only from the script and songs created by Churchill and the Monstrous Regiment, but also from the Maleus Maleficarum, a 1486 book on the systematic persecution of witches written by Harold Kramer and James Sprenger. The title comes from a famous woodcut of esteemed witch hunter Matthew Hopkins, who finds the names of old women’s “familiars.”

Vinegar Tom will be performed this Friday and Saturday, April 5th and 6th, at 8:00 PM in Margot Tenney. The creative team includes Abby Beggs and Eric Marlin, with  stage management by Rebecca Warzer and Kelly Nichols-Hoppe, set design by Ashley Connell, lighting by Ranleigh Starling and Brady Williams, and costume design by Krista Thorp. The music was composed by Abby Beggs.

Malia Guyer-Stevens