It is my absolute pleasure to welcome you to this world premiere production of Witch by Jen Silverman, a play that was commissioned and developed through Writers Theatre’s Literary Development Initiative. While we have staged at least one world premiere every season since moving into our new home, this is the first commissioned work written expressly for Glencoe to debut here since 2014, which makes it extra special. At every new play reading I host, I remind the audience that your favorite classic play was once a world premiere. This statement seems especially apropos here, since Witch is both a classic play and a world premiere.
Shakespeare has transcended his time in an unparalleled way, but there are countless plays from his contemporaries, as well as those who came before and after him, that have largely been consigned to history. WT Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and I have long been interested in rediscovering these plays by asking today’s best playwrights to revisit and adapt them. In 2012 at the Woman’s Library Club, we produced David Ives’s new version of The Liar, based on Pierre Corneille’s play from 1644, which Shakespeare Theater Company in DC had originally commissioned and premiered. Here was an immensely talented playwright of our time taking the groundwork given him by a predecessor from an earlier time and making something new, a perfect mingling of the classic and the contemporary. This is what we wanted to do more of here at Writers Theatre, where we’ve always been equally enamored with plays from the canon and new works.
Jen Silverman made this easy, as she already had a brilliant idea in mind when we first started talking about a collaboration. She was familiar with The Witch of Edmonton, a 1621 play by Thomas Dekker, William Rowley and John Ford, and knew it had an extraordinary amount to say about our present moment. After reading the original, I enthusiastically concurred and asked her to write her version of this story for WT. Characters and relationships from the Jacobean original have been kept, but most of the narrative arc and all of the dialogue are Jen’s own creation. The new play is a witty and fun journey inspired by its ancestor, full of stimulating questions regarding legacy and whether a single person can have an impact on the world.
Although we no longer live in an age when most of us consider the Devil showing up at our door a possible occurrence, Witch is without question a play for our times. At one point in the play, the Devil refers to himself as a “merchant of hope,” and indeed we watch all six of these characters question and ponder how strong their hope is: for themselves, for their relationships with others and for the entirety of civilization. One of them will come to propose a radical course of action that is as shocking as it is well argued. By now we are no strangers to messages of hope and despair, or to radical courses of action. You may have already been pondering to what degree you do or do not imagine a better future ahead for us all before you even came to the Theatre.
This play will be an energetically imaginative, disarmingly funny and relentlessly inquisitive exploration of that question of hope, prompting you, the audience, to come to your own conclusion. Out of the handful of people who’ve encountered the play prior to its premiere, I’ve had one person confess to me their pessimism about humanity’s chances, while another, affirmed in their optimism, has told me that as a result of this play they’ve made the decision to bring new life into the world. Such a wide variety of responses is a testament to the power of the art and the timeliness of the question.
My hope is that this is a production of many firsts. The first outing of many for Witch. The first Jen Silverman work to play Glencoe, a relationship we hope continues for years to come. The first of many more classic plays rediscovered and reinvigorated at Writers Theatre. Thanks for being here at the beginning of something special.