Does anyone delight in murder more than Jesse Berger? In the plays he has directed for Red Bull Theater, a company dedicated to reviving Elizabethan and Jacobean works, the characters are stabbed, strangled, poisoned, hanged, and horribly violated with a hot poker. The higher the body count, the greater his seeming joy. All of which makes The Witch of Edmonton—a domestic tragedy of minimal corpses by Thomas Dekker, John Ford, and William Rowley—a strange choice for Red Bull.
Rather than the usual pleasingly garish costumes, the cast is outfitted in earth tones and seem to go about their work with little fiendish amusement. The play includes two competing plots. In one, young Frank Thorney (Justin Blanchard) devises a violent way to escape a bigamous marriage. In the second, the persecuted Mother Sawyer (Charlayne Woodard) turns to a devil, in the form of a dog (Derek Smith), to seek revenge against the townsfolk. These stories have little narrative overlap and only a slight thematic one; Berger never makes a case for why we should consider them together. Indeed, while the production is mostly painless, Berger’s vision only really lives in the last few minutes of each act, when slaughter ensues. Death becomes him.