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THEATER REVIEW: Moxie’s “A Discourse On The Wonders Of The Invisible World”

One thing you can say about Liz Duffy Adams: Her plays are never boring. She specializes in tackling difficult topics in an entertaining, even witty way.

The awkwardly-titled “A Discourse On The Wonders Of The Invisible World” is no exception. Billed as a sequel to Arthur Miller’s classic “The Crucible,” Adams revisits Salem in 1702 – 10 years after the witch burnings.

Abigail Williams (Jo Anne Glover), one of the women who named “witches” (17 hangings were attributable to her testimony), has had second thoughts (not to mention a decade of nightmare-ridden sleep) and wants to discuss it with her partner in the hunt, Mercy Lewis (Wendy Waddell).

Mercy is now a tavern owner, blunt, brusque and not the least bit interested in
chitchat. She also wants no part of this discussion and is definitely not willing to consider the possibility that the 25 people dead on their say-so might have been a mistake. In fact, she suggests that “only a witch would say so.”

The entrance of two men from the village introduces more danger. Reverend Peck (Nick Young) is not just the local minister (though never ordained), but also serves as judge when the need arrives. Judah (Christopher Murphy) is a farmer, large and strong but none too bright. They are thirsty. Mercy dispatches (or rather, screams at) servant Rebekkah (the excellent Olivia Hicks) to fetch drinks.

As the four of them rehash the past, Abigail’s doubts push Mercy’s anger to such a volcanic level that she calls for a rope to end the discussion violently and permanently.

A cooler head prevails – Peck insists on a trial, and when newcomer John Fox (Jorge Rodriguez) comes in for a drink, things get even stranger. He seems to be on Abigail’s side: could he be the devil?

Abigail and Fox will end up on the roof of Robin Sanford Roberts’ revolving tavern of a set flanked by uninviting spiky shrubbery, where they will discover a few things in common.

“Discourse” (the unwieldy title is a shortened form of a book title by father-and-son witch trial advocates/ministers Increase and Cotton Mather) is a fascinating meditation on mob psychology, scapegoating and political corruption, brilliantly played and sensitively directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg in this, the first play of its tenth season.

Jennifer Brawn Gittings contributes appropriate costumes; Christopher Renda uses light effectively for this “ghost” story and Emily Jankowski’s sound contributes to the uneasy mood.

Glover and Waddell are perfect antagonists: Glover’s Abigail the quiet, haunted searcher for truth; Waddell’s Mercy loud, opinionated, brooking no disagreement and displaying little of the attribute her name suggests. Waddell conveys more with a dismissive “Chuh!” than pages of monologue.

Rodriguez is terrific as Fox – handsome, well-spoken, well-dressed, kind, clever and just what you’d expect the Devil to be.

Nick Young as the well-meaning but wrongheaded Reverend Peck and Christopher Murphy’s bit-of-a-bully Judah are convincing (if a bit depressing to contemplate as typical members of that society).

The real find in this cast is 12-year-old Hicks, in her Moxie debut and holding her own with no evident difficulty as the put-upon servant Rebekkah.

Moxie continues its tradition of fine and thought-provoking theater by and about women with this show. The only drawback is the ending: the play stops abruptly rather than coming to a satisfying conclusion. But the journey is an adventure.

The details

“A Discourse On The Wonders Of The Invisible World” plays through October 12, 2014 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. in the College Area of San Diego, California.

Thursday at 8 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (858) 598-7620 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.