Pitt Rep’s Vinegar Tom to Offer Acidic Take on Sexuality, Fear

Issue Date: 
January 8, 2007

Karaoke-style song and dance will infuse a chilling tale of English witch hunts

The University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre’s 2006-07 season continues with Obie Award-winning English playwright Caryl Churchill’s Vinegar Tom, Jan. 31-Feb. 11 in the Stephen Foster Memorial’s Henry Heymann Theatre.

Vinegar Tom tells the story of two 17th-century farmwomen accused of being witches by a man they spurned sexually. The connection between fear of female sexuality and witch hysteria is shown to fuel societal problems.

Director Ryan Howe, a Pitt teaching fellow pursuing his Ph.D. in theatre arts and performance studies, says he was attracted to the play’s timeliness and theatricality.

“Churchill depicts a society where fear is a driving factor, so there is a great deal of relevance to our times,” he declares.

The playwright wrote Vinegar Tom for a British feminist theatre company that had requested a play about witches. Following the Feb. 7 Pitt Rep performance, director Howe, dramaturge Melissa Porterfield, and City Theatre Artistic Associate Kellee Van Aken will lead a Women’s Studies Night panel discussion about Vinegar Tom and the issues it raises.

Despite some potentially grim subject matter Vinegar Tom also offers a great deal of fun, according to Howe, who took inspiration from karaoke clubs and the popular TV singing competition American Idol; Churchill’s disturbing lyrics will be inserted into familiar pop songs, and audiences will vote on which actors they want to sing the musical numbers.

Howe’s concept is consistent with the imaginative style of Churchill, who has been known to employ traditional music hall numbers in exploring gender roles in society.

“There are many short, Brecht-like scenes along with musical numbers,” Howe says. “The play portrays a dark, twisted, messed-up world, juxtaposed with song and dance.”

The artistic staff of the Pitt Rep’s Vinegar Tom includes Annmarie Duggan as sound designer; Joseph Walker, set designer; Elizabeth Ryan, costume designer; Nicole Zoellner, lighting designer; and Catherine DiGirolamo, stage manager. The cast of Pitt graduate and undergraduate students includes: Brittany Andrews (Alice), Justin Honard (Man), Lizzie Donaldson (Margery), Tom Chun (Jack), Meredith Conti (Joan/Kramer), Lauren Deitsch (Susan), Chaya Gordon (Ellen/Sprenger), Ryan Ben (Doctor/Bellringer), Clare Fogerty (Betty), Erin Carr (Goody), and Tom Aulino (Packer).

Vinegar Tom continues Pitt Rep’s “Global Crossings” season. Produced in partnership with Pitt’s University Center for International Studies and spotlighting plays from around the world, the season will conclude with a production of three farces by Russia’s Anton Chekhov—The Proposal, The Wedding, and The Bear—March 21-April 1 in the Stephen Foster Memorial’s Charity Randall Theatre.

For more information and to order tickets, call 412-624-PLAY (7529) or visit www.play.pitt.edu.