New Emerson Stage production is bewitching

by Beacon Staff • November 15, 2006

Emerson Stage's latest must-see production, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, begins with the arrival of free-thinking Kit Tyler to a Puritan Connecticut town in 1687. Tyler, played by senior acting major Mia Van de Water, comes from a liberal upbringing, full of poetry, lavish goods, and freedom of thought. When orphaned, she is sent to live with her uncle, Matthew Wood, played by senior acting major Paul Brindley, and forced to adjust not only to a new family, but a different way of life in the staunchly conservative town.

The play, directed by Robert Colby and adapted by Y York from the Newbury Award-winning novel by Elizabeth George Speare, seeks to inspire its audience to confront conformity with bravery, something lacking from modern times.

Brindley comes across as the shining star of the production, controlling the stage with his intense gaze and full-toned voice. Kit's two cousins, Judith, played by junior theatre studies major Riayn Fergins, and Mercy, played by junior acting major Lisa Woods, add desirable twists to the plot. Despite playing an unsympathetic character, Fergins' acting ability impresses. Meanwhile, Mercy exudes sympathy from the audience, showing Woods' acting strengths.

With Kit's arrival comes the unwanted gaze of William Ashby, played by junior theatre studies major Matthew Arnold. Ashby, who was previously courting Judith, quickly changes his interests to Kit, demonstrating a comedic determination. Judith, who is obviously moved with jealousy by her cousin's clear desirability, intervenes in the courtship of Mercy and John Holocomb, played by senior acting major Alex Coggin.

Woods and Coggin offer an innocent humor through romantic Bible readings and na've courtship.

Throughout the complexities of the love triangle, there is clear chemistry between Kit and the captain's son, Nat Eaton, played by sophomore acting major Joe Ruscio. The two offer quick banter throughout the play, as the intensity of their desire rises.

However, happiness is halted with the town's Puritan leader, Reverend Gideon Gish, played by sophomore musical theatre Daniel Hainsworth. Gish's personal dislike for Kit intervenes as Kit's lack of conformity becomes an immediate scapegoat to the town's problems. The reverend, along with his wife, Goody Rebecca Gish, played by senior musical theatre major Chelsea Paice, accuses Kit of witchery.

Hainsworth and Paice make an undeniably hateful duo as they command the stage with the utter disdain for the independent.

Their daughter, Prudence, played by Laura Dadap (a sophomore BFA acting major), offers comedic relief to the shows mixed intensity. With contagious one-liners, Dadap works the role perfectly, bringing the audience into the eyes of a youth's perspective on Puritans, saying, "Bread could be a trick, to make us love the devil."

Two guest appearances come in the form of Hannah Tupper, played by Juanita Rodrigues (a theater teacher from the Boston Arts Academy), and Miss Cat, played by Jessica Binder (an MA theater education major). Tupper, a Quaker who was branded for her differences and expelled from the village, befriends Kit when she is at her lowest point. She lives alone on the pond with the company of Miss Cat. The puppet of Miss Cat required expert design and Binder truly brings this character to life with her facial expressions and sounds.

The stage, by far, is the defining factor of professionalism in the production. It is worth paying the price of admission just to see the set, which was designed by Crystal Tiala. Water plays a key role in the set construction, as the entire stage and story line is centered on a pond.