The following is a review of The Speakeasy Society’s The Witch, with very minor spoilers throughout. All photos courtesy of Model05 Productions. witch
It seems like it was just last month that I was sitting in a creaky church pew, watching The Speakeasy Society’s The Vow come to an anticipated, but nonetheless shocking cliffhanger. It was not so long ago, but things are moving quickly in The Kansas Collection, leading up to a finale planned for early 2019. And so, on a windy, deserted block of ROW Downtown Los Angeles, we’ve come to meet Glinda, The Witch, for the sixth chapter in Speakeasy’s compelling take on Frank Baum’s Oz series.
Unlike The Vow before it, which featured the full Speakeasy ensemble leading guests on multiple tracks and sub tracks, The Witch is perhaps the most straightforward presentation of the narrative of any previous Kansas chapters—a single track is laid, a single story told. This seemingly standard structure, however, is what makes The Witch so successful; the brilliant performances of the small cast become the core heart of the piece. Actors Matthew Bamberg-Johnson, Natalie Fryman, and Chynna Skye move from strength to strength in a stirring tale of grief, betrayal, and hopefully, someday soon, vindication.
The quickest way to loss is love, Glinda says at one point; it’s a phrase that will stick with me long after I leave this place. Even though I’ve seen what Oz is becoming now that Queen Ozma is in control, I still wonder what’s gone so wrong in Oz that Glinda, the historical representative of all that’s right and true, has become so lost. Fryman’s talent here is palpable; she’s the witch with no magic, and it’s heartbreaking to see her growing further and further from the belief that she’ll be able to help good triumph over evil. Her voice breaks, fraught with emotion, and yet every word is tinged with venom, as if she’s speaking a curse; I think perhaps there’s a spark of magic left in her, after all.
Fryman’s performance is bookended in The Witch by those of Chynna Skye and Matthew Bamberg-Johnson as Lavender Pip and Phil Daring, respectively. Skye is a pleasure to behold, all rage and attitude; it’s intriguing to see what the loss of her beloved Scarecrow in The Vow has done to her, and more intriguing still to wonder what it may continue to do. In contrast, Bamberg-Johnson seems to represent the very heart of The Kansas Collection as a whole; his journey thus far has been remarkable. It’s Bamberg-Johnson’s innate charm and empathy that’s endeared Phil to audiences from their first interactions with him, and his work in The Witch is no exception. Those who took the Red Track in The Vow will particularly connect with Phil here—a literal inner conflict is at hand within him, as it has been all this time, and watching it play out is riveting.
The Witch represents yet another succinct, skillful addition to the Kansas Collection, and is a welcome entry in an increasingly harrowing narrative with endless potential. Only a few more chapters remain in this now-beloved immersive theatre staple, and perhaps there’s still hope for the good people of Oz yet, even though the world is dark. As Dorothy said in The Vow: “Evil always wins right up until the end, or it doesn’t feel worth it.” No matter what’s to come, The Speakeasy Society’s Kansas Collection continues to be very much worth it.
You can also read our all-track recap of The Vow here.