With the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s, Massachusetts is no stranger to witchcraft. In Vinegar Tom, however, the Department of Theatre’s latest production explores the theme as it fits in 17th-century England and present day.
In Vinegar Tom, playwright Caryl Churchill uses the witchcraft scene of the 17th century to examine the effects of poverty, humiliation, and prejudice of women in particular. Churchill wrote the play in 1976, inspired by the passage of the Women’s Rights Act in the U.S. a few years prior.
Northeastern’s production runs through Sunday, Nov. 20, in the Studio Theatre. For its performance, the Department of Theatre worked with a composer to create original, contemporary music using Churchill’s written lyrics.
Dario Sanchez, AMD’17, plays Jack in the play and serves as the sole accompanist for the songs.
“It’s definitely a bit of a challenge to go out and do an intense scene, then run back up to my guitar on- stage to play a song that’s totally removed from the story of the play, and then jump right back into the next scene,” Sanchez said.
“It’s hard, but it’s also definitely the thing I’ve loved most about doing this show: I feel like an artist, not just a performer, because I’ve gotten to write music to underscore large parts of the play that I’m not in, as well as interpret and arrange the compositions that our music director gave to me,” he said.
Carla Mirabal, AMD’19, who plays Goody in the production, said this blend of contemporary and historical is something that drew her to the play.
“From the moment I read the play I was drawn in by how different it is,” Mirabal said. “I love the way Caryl Churchill takes this historical event— the witch trials in England— and combines it with songs that interrupt the story to create a universal narrative that is still absolutely relevant today.
“I find the commentary she makes about how women with power are treated, and how that treatment could potentially have deadly consequences incredibly interesting,” she added. “It begs the question, has society changed at all since then?”
The production is perhaps all the more relevant given the 2016 presidential election, in which the nation’s first female major party presidential candidate was defeated.
“Think of Vinegar Tom as this past election but with more accusations of witchcraft—though not that many more,” Mirabal joked.