For more than three centuries, Salem, Mass., has been linked to the infamous witch trials. In 1692, at least 20 men and women died after being convicted of witchcraft; it was then considered a crime punishable by death. Hundreds more faced accusations.
A new production at the Coterie Theatre, Afflicted: Daughters of Salem, provides the story behind the girls — the accusers, who started it all.
Afflicted is written by Laurie Brooks, a longtime Coterie collaborator. She says the play is "not easy. It’s subtle, it’s complex. It's about relationships."
INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS: Laurie Brooks and Jeff Church
On commissioning a play from the girls' perspective
Jeff Church: "Initially, when I thought of commissioning it, I was thinking it might be in the back room of the trial. Our play is a commissioned play about the girls and what led up to the Salem witch trials, not inside the courtroom itself.
And I always felt like with The Crucible, the most interesting characters to me were those six girls. However, we don’t know them that well in The Crucible. They come in, they flail, make their accusations.
In our play, we get to learn the power brokering between these girls, what might have gone on ahead of time."
On the characters taking shape
Laurie Brooks: "There are a lot of books, so I just sort of armed myself with information.
There isn’t really a lot about the girls, there just isn’t a lot. In a way, that was a good thing.
There was a ton of information about the mores of the day, the Puritan lifestyle...the kinds of oppression that they experienced, but not much about their personality. So that left a lot of space for the imagination. To say, how might these girls have become accusers? What might have led to that happening?
To me, all of the girls are interesting – I could have picked anyone to be the main character. In this case, it’s Abigail (Williams), but they’re all very carefully delineated in the play, they’re very different from one another, and they have different status in the play as well. There’s power given and power taken."
On the role of the forum, after the play
Jeff Church: "Laurie (Brooks) is doing her trademark forum, that happens after this play. We pioneered it after The Wrestling Season, way back in 1999, where the actors stay on stage in character, and the audience delves into the themes of the play in a deeper way, in a sort of interactive dialog that’s facilitated by one of the characters.
So, we stay in character. It's really a technique that’s worked for us a number of times in getting kids to find the nuance and the ambiguity and the grayness, instead of a black and white set of issues. And that’s what that forum does. That process...puts the climax of the play not actually in the play itself, but in the forum and the transaction between the audience and the performers."
Afflicted: Daughters of Salem, runs through February 23, 2014, at the Coterie Theatre, 1st level of Crown Center shops, 2350 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Mo. 816-474-6552.