Author Archive for: ‘CarolBenet’

“Becky Nurse of Salem” at Berkeley Rep.

“Becky Nurse of Salem” at Berkeley  Rep.

Carol Benet

Sarah Ruhl’s “Becky Nurse of Salem” has its world premiere at the Berkeley  Rep.  where it was developed.  After 6 other Ruhl plays produced there, including “In the Next Room:  The  vibrator Play” that went on to New York, Ruhl brings this new play to the stage at a time when women are being excoriated, demeaned and called false accusers.

A play that was inspired by Arthur Mjller’s classic “The Crucible” about the Salem witch trials,  Ruhl, a MacArthur Genius Fellow, has done her research about the period in American history and about Miller’s presentation of it.  As in several of her works, she is interested in the mythology surrounding the subject. Her “Eurydice” presented her version of the Orpheus myth.

Rather than a tiresome re-take of the late 17 century, Ruhl places her story in the present where a distant relative of Nurse Becky, one of the 19 victims of the witch trials, works in the Salem Museum of Witchcraft .  This Becky played by Pamela Reed, a foul mouthed, feisty grandmother t raising her wayward granddaughter Gail (Nalan González Norvind) after her mother died from drugs.  Gail is just out of a mental institute and wants to run away with Stan (Owen Campbell), who is a bad story.  Gail’s absent father. whom we do not see in the play is also a druggie.

Uptight administrator Shelby  (Elissa Beth Stebbins) fires Becky from leading tours for the cheesy, touristy museum because she goes “off-’script” as she inserts her own knowledge of the history.  Becky complains to her old high-school boyfriend Bob (Adrian Roberts) who owns the local bar where she hangs out. 

In desperation Becky goes to a witch (Ruibo Qian) in order to take charge of her life and her sour relationships.  Following the witch’s remedies ($400 first visit and more later), a hot relationship develops between Becky and the married Bob. Twists in the plot are a delight and Reed’s acting is superb in her creation of humor as well as pathos.  Reed is a well know actress of stage, screen and t.v..  In fact many of the cast members come from New York as does the talented director Anne Kauffman.

Becky starts run her own private tours of Salem and is arrested by the local  policeman (Rod Gnapp) for not having a permit.  She lands in jail and through her dream enacts the witch trial which sends her to the gallows.  Ruhl makes explicit references to the state of womanhood in America today under a government who neither respects or believes them.  Shouts of “Lock her up”, are heard in the background hinting at the similarities of the present leaders in blaming innocent victims.  Ruhl was most disturbed by Trump’s ability to rile-up screaming crowds a la Hitler times.

“Becky Nurse of Salem” is a story on many levels and it is worth the viewers’ time to arrive early at the theater and read the excellent essays by Ruhl and the dramaturg Madeleine Oldham about the period, history and mythology surrounding the story.

The tech team could not be better.  Louisa Thompson’s set creates a bar that turns into the judge’s desk in the courtroom by merely turning it around.  Meg Neville’s costumes are fitting for the 17th century as well as the present. Costumed  mannequins circle the stage .  Russell H. Champa’s lighting and Mikaal Sulaiman’s sound are perfect as well as is Daniel Kluger’s music.  Johanna Pfaelzer, the new artistic director at the Rep. has produced a hit play.

“Becky Nurse of Salem” at Berkeley  Rep. runs through January 26.  510 647 2949 or  

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