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'KISSING THE WITCH' PROBES NEED TO DEFINE THE UNKNOWN

"Kissing the Witch" is a beautifully written play adapted from the book "Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins" by highly regarded Irish playwright Emma Donoghue.

The play itself -- a Hag Theatre production presented at Hallwalls under the elegant direction of Margaret Smith -- is a poetic retelling of several European folk tales that explore the relationship between our insistent production of the marginalized "other" -- in this case, the witch -- our terror and gratitude at what we have wrought, and the willingness of our creation to bear the mantle of scapegoat and messenger to the gods.

The witch in each tale has no illusions about her role. The contradiction between who she is and what she is understood to be, is constantly apparent. They constantly challenge our urge to demonize their role (the "Blair Witch Project" is a recent example) as well as our urge to sacralize their presence among us. Crone, hag, wise woman, witch -- they laugh at our "need" for them -- which they deny -- give us what we ask and wish we would leave them alone. The David Butler-designed set was impressive: the fragrance of incense, the thick tangle of branches surrounding the brightly lit blue stage floor, which was painted with a Celtic spiral and the occasional star -- very, very effective. The well-chosen musical accompaniment was evocative of other worlds and psychic borderlands -- includes Ubaka Hill's "The Singing in the Silence," and Loreena McKinnit's "The Old Ways."

The tales themselves -- poetically written and deeply suggestive -- tell of young girls sold to men by their beloved fathers (a well-established practice throughout Europe for thousands of years) or poor girls with muddy feet and "hands scored red by fish scales" who give up much too much to "earn" the love of an undeserving other. Wind-whipped and dark, the stories speak directly to the roles played and terrible prices paid by each of us in our desperate attempts to gain love and power -- power and love that we already have, or so says the witch.

Four actors -- Cyd Cox, Jessica Rasp, Kate Elliot and Daniel Horrigan -- play various roles very well. Although at times I wished for more naturalistic acting, these are allegorical tales that not only permit but also call for iconic presentation. A special word of praise for young Kate Elliott, who has emerged as a fine young actress: from her role as a nubile young woman craving the touch of a handsome man to that of a beloved donkey who meets with quite an unpleasant end (again at the hands of a dear master), she is very arresting.

This play, like all very good theater, speaks the truth clearly and well, with generosity of spirit, warning, great wit and forgiveness. Those who might fear that it is -- of necessity -- anti-male do not understand the deep understanding and even love the marginalized have for those with power over them.

For these others to survive at all, their understanding is of necessity so deep that it is capable of forgiving even the worst crimes against body and soul. Furthermore, it is one that can deeply inform the lives of any who will listen.

RATING: 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4

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