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A devilish and delightful ‘Witch’ opens at the Huntington

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
A devilish and delightful ‘Witch’ opens at the Huntington
Lyndsay Allyn Cox as Elizabeth and Michael Underhill as Scratch in "Witch." PHOTO: Courtesy of The Huntington

As nearby Salem has taught us, it’s rarely a good time when the devil comes to town. But in “Witch,” playing at the Huntington Theatre through Nov. 15, the narrative gets a modern makeover rounded out with laughter, tears and questions probing into contemporary morality.

In Jen Silverman’s adaptation of this Jacobean play, the son of a lord and an ambitious newcomer butt heads. The charming devil arrives on the scene conveniently offering characters throughout town exactly what they’ve always wanted — for a price. While townspeople scramble to achieve their desires, it’s Elizabeth, an ostracized woman labeled a witch, who holds out on Lucifer.

As the one tempting hold-out in town, Elizabeth becomes a fascination to the devil and the two enter into a battle of wits that runs deeper than just another moral conquest.

Cast member Lyndsay Allyn Cox, who plays Elizabeth, says, “My take was subtle, it was sarcastic, it was cynical, it was passionate, but grounded. She’s strong in her convictions. I made her very grounded and rooted in reality, not flamboyant and over-the-top. Just real.”

Cox had originally auditioned for a different character when the show was planned for an opening in fall 2020. Pandemic shutdowns pushed the show to this year, and when Cox came back to the audition stage after the immense emotional challenges of COVID-19, she knew the more seasoned Elizabeth was the character for her.

The costumes for the production are traditional 17th-century garments, but the rhetoric is completely contemporary. “Your eyes are seeing 1600s, but your ears are hearing very modern language,” says Cox. “And I think they work together well.” This juxtaposition provides comic relief and reminds audience members that the issues of the 17th century aren’t so different from the dynamics at play in our current world.

As political turmoil continues to roil the United States, Silverman’s play brings sharply into the focus the price that is required of change, and what kind of change might really be necessary. Cox notes that Elizabeth speaks mostly in questions throughout the play, subtly prompting her fellow characters to analyze their own actions.

“We have to hold people accountable; maybe we do need to burn down institutions, theoretically, in order to build things up in a better way,” says Cox. “I hope folks leave inspired to do that. If you are the same person when you walk in as when you leave, then we have not done our job.”