“Old tales in new skins”: “Kissing the Witch” in review

Amelia Leach, Campus Life Reporter

On Thursday, March 2, Whitman’s Department of Theatre and Dance debuted their production of “Kissing the Witch,” a cycle of short stories based on classic fairy tales. The play, based on the book by Emma Donoghue, contains five tales – four old and one new.

The play opened with “The Tale of the Rose,” which is based on the story of “Beauty and the Beast.” The Man, played by junior Ian Smith, sacrifices his daughter, played by senior Taegan Snyder, to a beast. Unlike the original story, however, the beast ended up being a woman in a mask, played by senior Gillian Brown. Rose and the beast get to live out their happily ever after together.

I was surprised by this twist, even though I could see the witch’s hair under the beast mask, so perhaps it was meant to be obvious. The chemistry in this story was convincing and made for a highly engaging performance to start the show.

Next, the “beast” tells the “beauty” her own story: “The Tale of the Skin.” This story is based on the fairy tale “Donkeyskin.”

This tale was my favorite to watch onstage. Having never read Donkeyskin before, I had no original tale to compare it to. The twists and turns throughout the scene threw me for a loop, nonetheless.

Classically, the young princess/future beast’s mother dies, leading her father to decide that he will marry his daughter. She postpones this by asserting she must have the perfect dress to marry him, instructing the spinster to make three dresses which buys her several months. I found this part awfully lengthy and was ready for the plot to move along, but perhaps that was intentional to create suspense and agitation – if that was the case, mission accomplished. When the princess can no longer stall, she runs away. She disguises herself with the hide of her father’s donkey.

She attends the ball of a prince dressed in one of her three dresses, and the prince is immediately interested in her. The following day, the same prince cannot recognize her wearing her donkey hide. Crushed with disappointment, she returns home and discovers her father is dead. I liked the twist of the prince not recognizing the princess in her peasant garb because it was a refreshingly realistic depiction of the value we put on the physical appearance of women – hence why this plot was my favorite. Though the ending wasn’t necessarily surprising, I appreciated it after all of the turnabouts and chaos. Everyone’s acting amazed me, the donkey (played by Snyder) in particular for making the audience laugh and adding humor to an otherwise dark and incestuous scene. The donkey costume, with its head of rafia made by costume designer Aaron Chvatal, stole the show.

Act one concluded with “The Tale of the Handkerchief” – the spinster’s story – starring sophomore Paige Yanny in a retelling of “The Goose Girl.” Yanny played a servant who resents the princess she serves. The princess’s mother dies (again, classic), and the servant ends up stealing the princess’s identity so she can marry the king the princess is betrothed to. The original princess grows to embrace her new role as a goose girl, while the imposter princess is wildly paranoid her true identity will be revealed. I was very entertained by Yanny’s performance, especially the way in which she pretended to ride a decrepit horse in an exaggerated manner. It was also fun to watch the buildup of her irritation towards the princess on their journey to meet the king.

I enjoyed act two a great deal. The actors were in perfect harmony with one another, and the set design for “The Tale of the Voice” – a retelling of “The Little Mermaid” – was spectacular. In this twist, the main character was a fishing girl rather than a mermaid.

The final story, “The Tale of the Witch,” embraced the queer, feminist themes of this play and left the ending up to interpretation – I still can’t decide what I think happened next. 

I really enjoyed the costuming in the show. All three of the witches were costumed with bountiful, messy wigs and colorful shredded witch dresses. I loved these extravagant costumes but wish there was a bit more variation between them; at points, I struggled to tell which witch was which (no pun intended).

The visuals projected behind the curtain at the back of the stage were unlike anything I’d seen in a production before. At one point, it looked like fire. Colorful and spooky, with elements of magic, these effects, added so much to the whole production. The lighting, as well as the sound, created the perfect majestic and “witchy vibe.”

Overall, I loved what Whitman did with this play. It was clear that countless hours and so much effort went into this play – the acting, costumes, lighting, sound and set design – and it certainly paid off.