This Caryl Churchill play is about 17th-century witch trials.
There’s no bad time to revive Vinegar Tom, Caryl Churchill’s stunningly potent 1976 play about 17th century witch trials and how easily they were called down upon ordinary women just living their lives and happening to piss the wrong person off. Sadly, its depiction of how women are disproportionately vilified and demonized when they are perceived to have misstepped is in some ways perhaps even more resonant now in the age of social media than it was in the 1970s, even leaving aside the obvious prevalence of “witch hunt” rhetoric.
Also, Shotgun Players’ production at South Berkeley’s Ashby Stage comes at a time when Caryl Churchill is all over Bay Area stages, coming hot on the heels of productions of the superb British playwright’s other seminal works Top Girls at American Conservatory Theater and Cloud Nine at Custom Made Theatre Co. This fest started back in July with Berkeley’s small Anton’s Well Theater Company giving Churchill’s recent one-acts Escaped Alone and Here We Go their Bay Area premieres. San Francisco’s venerable Magic Theatre will also take on Escaped Alone next April.
Vinegar Tom also coincides with another witch hunt-themed play just across town — the world premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Becky Nurse of Salem at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Churchill’s play leavens its sobering subject matter somewhat with in-your-face musical numbers in a modern style — and indeed, entirely separate from the period action. They may be performed by the same actors, but it’s not like the 1600s characters themselves are breaking into song. Cutting Ball Theater artistic director Ariel Craft, who helmed Shotgun’s gripping recent Dry Land, returns to direct this production.
Vinegar Tom, Dec. 6-Jan. 5, 8 p.m. or 7 p.m. Wed.-Thu.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 5 p.m. Sun.; Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley; $7-$40; 510-841-6500, ShotgunPlayers.org.