Friday, July 31, 2009

Something Witchy (The SOB Review)

Something Witchy (The SOB Review) - Partizan Theater, Minnesota Fringe Festival, U of M Rarig Center Thrust, Minneapolis, Minnesota

***1/2 (out of ****)

Someplace far beyond where the improbable seems to run forever parallel to the possible -- with no apparent chance for ever intersecting -- the former veers directly into the latter.

Such was the case forty years ago this summer when Charles Manson and his "Family" of followers shocked the world with their heinous crimes against the bold and the beautiful in Los Angeles. Their brand of drug-induced, racially-tinged, Beatles-inspired "Helter Skelter" over the course of two nights left seven brutally murdered, including actress Sharon Tate and grocer Leno LaBianca.

The Tate-LaBianca Murders, of course, would become the stuff of never-ending notoriety. There would be countless books, movies and even an "official" blog. So large is the continued fascination that the thirst for new angles on this 40-year old story never seem to be fully quenched.

It's against this backdrop that Partizan Theater's Something Witchy manages to find that obscure place where the improbable gives way to the possible yet again. Set in 1986, Something Witchy conjures up the insatiable thirst of one man (Chris Carlson) for his own angle, resulting in a search for a long-since missing 16 year old Family Member. That search ends in the Midwestern suburban home of Rachel (Catherine Johnson Justice), who has quietly assumed a new identity and life as a wife and mother of her own 16 year old daughter Cody (Lindsey Alexandra Hartley).

Instead of merely turning in another ripped-from-the-headlines story -- ten years ago, Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) member Kathleen Ann Soliah was found to have quietly taken root as Midwest wife and mom Sara Jane Olson -- playwright and director James Vculek brilliantly turns that twist on its head with a far creepier, crawlier take on the inherent perils of stalking itself.

Clocking in at just an hour, Something Witchy is a spine-tingling, taut thriller anchored by three riveting performances. Hartley projects the requisite frustration of a teen who can't quite figure out her mysterious mother (even if her voice doesn't always project nearly enough). Carlson lends a truly creepy air to his man on a mission, making us wonder what his true motives in tracking Rachel really are -- is it his own fame and fortune or some twisted lust?

Justice is simply off-the-charts as the cornered Rachel, whose face can't belie the facts when confronted. But is she relieved to finally share her dark secret or is there a dormant Family aspect that's been bubbling under the surface all these years?

For a work set amid the fringes of society, Something Witchy is far from average Minnesota Fringe Festival fare. Far from improbable, it succeeds in standing on its own weight here, and its possibilities point to a meatier stand-alone play that will hopefully cast its spell in other theatres to come.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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