Carol Churchill’s “Vinegar Tom” at Shotgun Players
Caryl Churchill’s “Viinegar Tom” at Shotgun Players
This is the time for revivals of Caryl Churchill’s plays. At Custom Made Theatre, A.C.T. and now Shotgun Players this year her earlier works have hit the stages. Currently and through January 19, 2020, Shotgun revives “Viinegar Tom” in its small, innovative and excellent theater. Churchill in her 80’s and is still actively producing new works. Old or new, the issues she raises always ring true, especially about women’s rights.
“Vinegar Tom” is a play about 16th century witches. In a small English town the women with normal desires and weaknesses are being executed. Their behavior is being called e product of the devil and therefore evil. This Berkeley cast sings and dances its way through an amusing play, although the script is rather thin and predictable. These women are suspected of conspiring with the devil, And since Churchill is always making comparisons to contemporary times, she indicates that women are still being persecuted for bad or just normal desires for which men are excused.
Ariel Craft’s direction has the cast of all women except one man, sing the music performed by an above-stage band ably conducted by Daniel Alley. Unfortunately the music is far from original and echoes the sounds and rhythms of “New York, New York” throughout which makes Diana Lawrence’s musical compositions a bit tiresome. Natalie Greene’s choreography is essential to the play as it allows the cast to prance around in different musical sequences thus keeping the almost two hour work (without intermission) lively. Nina Ball’s varied level set and Brooke Jennings’ costumes are perfect for replicating the times. Nancy Carlin’s dialect coaching has produced believable middle English 17th century accents.
Megan Trout’s Alice is most convincing, especially in the scene with Jack/Devil, Dov Hassan, harasser-in-chief. The finale with a ten person chorus in tuxedoes is reminiscent of hoofers in a Broadway musical such as “Chorus Line“ or “Chicago”. “Vinegar Tom” is one of Churchill’s weakest plays but Shotgun Players does a good job of making entertainment.
Shotgun Players is on Ashby across the street from the Bart parking lot making it a convenient location. shotgunplayers.org or 510 841 6500.