Fringe Feast #1: “Witches” Is a Sweet, Funny Appetizer

Fringe 2017 has begun – and this is the week of previews.
Spread out like hors d’oeuvres, the previews offer an early taste
of the immense feast ahead.

My first sampling is a piece I wanted to see when it debuted at Son of Semele some months ago — Why We Become Witches, adapted from Sylvia Townsend Warner’s classic novel Lolly Willowes.

Laura, a shy, pleasant British matron, takes a breath then plunges into telling the story of her disappearance.  But it’s not a mystery.
A vibrant young country girl, she’s suddenly orphaned.  Her brother and his wife take her into their London home — and she starts fading away, shunted to a small upstairs room, given no role in the family except “Auntie” to the children.  As she ages into spinsterhood, even her name disappears, “Laura” giving way to the childlike “Lolly.”

After a series of shocks (including World War I), Lolly realizes
she must seize her life or lose it.  Over her brother’s objections,
she moves to a tiny rural town where she gradually develops an intense relationship with “Him,” the animating spirit just beneath
the surface of the natural world around her.

Lolly’s gentle flowering into witchcraft has as much to do with the Celtic Green Man as with Satan (the name she calls “Him”).  And by her tale’s end, she’s diffidently voicing critiques of patriarchy as trenchant as any by Virginia Woolf or Germaine Greer.

The versatile Lisa K. Wyatt creates a Lolly we can’t stop watching and listening to, whose unassuming discoveries, step by step, keep us smiling, at times laughing, and always convinced.  Director Kate Motzenbacker nicely uses the small space, teacups and flowers to contain and then gradually release Lolly.

Why We Become Witches is a faithful, delightful distillation of Warner’s much-loved novel; in fact, Motzenbacker and Sal Nicolazzo have achieved the impossible, bringing it down to not much more than a half-hour.  And therein lies my major criticism: It was over far too soon.  I’d love to spend longer with Lolly.
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Why We Become Witches, by Sylvia Townsend Warner, adapted by Kate Motzenbacker and Sal Nicolazzo, directed by Motzenbacker.
Presented by Dana Leigh Lyman, in The Studio at Sacred Fools Theater, 1078 Lillian Way, LA 90038.

Friday, June 9, at 9:30 pm;
Sunday, June 11, at 9:30 pm;
Thursday, June 15, at 11 pm;
Sunday, June 18, at 2:00 pm;
Friday, June 23, at 9:00 pm;
Sunday, June 25, at 12:00.

Tickets:  <www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4700>