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March 2016

The Witch and Mr. Beckett

March 21, 2016

Dear Reader,

There are some things that we cannot experience anymore except under special circumstances. This week, I have been thinking about two of them: damnation and darkness. The Witch‘s ability to terrify relies upon our acceptance that the characters really do fear the fires of hell, not in a metaphorical way but in a very real sense. They can feel them licking at their heels.The Witch- TPIATLisa Dwan’s Beckett Trilogy Not IFootfalls, and Rockabye relies upon our inexperience with total darkness. The hour-long production is performed in a total blackout, including exit signs and safety lights. This creates a blackness that is almost unheard of for the average millennial city-dweller. The darkness lays on top of you, at first calming and dazzling and then suffocating and sharpening every sound and movement. It is easy to understand how someone could fear darkness like that.Not I- TPIATIn Not I, Dwan’s mouth floats like Tinkerbell, tiny and bright in all that darkness, spewing and spitting and cackling. Then, in Footfalls, her heels tread out a rhythm of imminent grief. Her character paces just beyond her mother’s deathbed, waiting for the end to come, recalling the years of suffering. The lighting only illuminates her, sometimes brightening her white face and gown, sometimes dimming so low that she seems like a ghost. The darkness around her allows her to move her body slightly in any direction to create a different effect, while the audience remains in almost total darkness throughout. There is nothing else to focus on, just her and her pale brightness.Footfalls-TPIATThe Witch, shot in the natural light of what looks like a perpetual New England February, shows women as similarly pale bright creatures. Thomasin, the main character of The Witch, is luminous. The eye is instantly drawn to her whenever she is on screen and that magnetism is what causes her family to fear and distrust her. Her beauty is powerful and female and thus dangerous. We as a society are not free of the fear that powerful women can inspire, but we are mostly beyond the concept that that power signifies evil. In the New Yorker review of the movie, Anthony Lane asserts that the vital point is that “we can’t be damned.” These people believe without question that they can be and thus, they are.The Witch-TPIATBeckett’s women, several hundred years later, transfix us. But it is not them that we are afraid of, it is the darkness that surround them. Even though they are grief-stricken, doubt-ridden, and terrified themselves, they are the powerful brightness we are drawn to like a flame. In both The Witch and these three plays, these women fill the screen with their emotions and their power.Rockabye-TPIATI felt I had experienced something truly unique with both of these. I felt that family’s fear of hell and sin and damnation in The Witch as if it were my own. That fear is what stays with you long after the violent flashes of fire and blood fade. They feared the darkness of the woods and the darkness of a world without God. So many years later I sat in the kind of oppressive darkness their every night was likely filled with. One could understand turning to prayer in all that vastness. Or turning to something else.The Witch- TPIAT