Production of Vinegar Tom to open this week

BY ALANNA KOEHLER ’15
Campus Life Editor

“Find something to burn,” instruct cryptic flyers strewn all over campus, promoting the upcoming production of Vinegar Tom, which is advertised as “a play about witches with no witches in it.”

The production opens the night of Thursday, Oct. 25 and will run through Sunday, Oct. 28, showing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2:00 p.m. Sunday. Admission into Schnader Theatre in Roschel Performing Arts Center is set at $5 for students, $7.50 for faculty and professional staff, and $10 for the general public.

The following promotional paragraph prompts: “You have no money. You cannot protect yourself from the cold. Or from hunger. You have desires you dare not name. You have fears you dare not challenge. What can you do? Find something to burn. Let it go up in smoke. Burn your troubles away.”

“One of my favorite songs from the show is about how we need something to blame for what we can’t control,” said director Jon Foley Sherman, visiting assistant professor of theater, by way of explanation for the circulating “Find something to burn” slogan. “The song’s lyrics include, ‘What shall we do? About sickness and hunger and dying? What shall we do? Nothing. Nothing but cursing and dying. Find something to burn. Let it go up in smoke. Burn your troubles away.’”

The play features Rae Wohl ’13 and Sara Althen ’16, who play a mother and daughter challenging their predetermined roles. Universal themes of fear, desire, sexual confusion, and poverty punctuate the witty plot, which is set in a 17th century village and centered upon accusations of witchcraft.

“When sexual confusion combines with fear and poverty, we demand a name for what we do not know. And that name is witch,” Foley Sherman said.

Not only do the themes continue to resonate as strongly with audiences today as they did in the 1970s, when the play was written, but the main personal and societal issues are all too relevant as well.

Vinegar Tom deals with many issues still facing us today, especially in lieu of the upcoming election,” said Bonnie Bosso, theater production and public relations manager.

“The show was chosen during the Republican primary campaign and during passage of a number of laws at the state level requiring medically unnecessary procedures for women who sought abortions,” Foley Sherman said.

The director explained the relevance of the production, which brings into focus questions about women’s rights, gender roles, and laws regulating women’s choices about their bodies, to current controversial political issues driving the presidential and senatorial elections.

“In the ongoing presidential election we face a choice that will determine who has access to health care and who controls women’s reproductive rights,” Foley Sherman said in the press release. “We also have a candidate for the U.S. Senate who gained headlines for claiming that in cases of ‘legitimate rape,’ women’s bodies ‘shut down’ and cannot conceive, and another candidate recently claimed that evolution was a ‘lie straight from the pit of hell.’ Vinegar Tom offers an opportunity to think about the reasons for and consequences of laws that regulate our relationship to our bodies.”

However, political relevance is not the only hook meant to draw in an audience; the set itself, an elaborate kinetic sculpture designed by John Whiting, resident scenic and lighting director, is creating quite a buzz. The set, which Bosso deemed “groundbreaking,” utilizes 1,200 pieces of rope, amounting to a total of 30,000 feet, or 5.68 miles, which hang from moveable overhead rails. The audience will also be seated on the stage around the playing area.

The production is teaming up with Sweet Ophelia, one of the College’s all-female a cappella groups. The group will perform interludes throughout the play, adding a musical (and another humorous) element.

With its unique set, musical collaborations, and political relevance, Vinegar Tom promises to be as interesting as its flyers are puzzling, and Foley Sherman hopes the audience will be drawn into the slogan and sympathize with the message.

“The question for the audience, of course, is what are you finding to burn?” Foley Sherman said.

Questions? Email Alanna at akoehler@fandm.edu.

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