Playing with Anne at The Witch House

 The Witch House is the only structure in Salem still standing that has a direct tie to the Witch Trials of 1692-3 (twenty years after Anne’s death).

The Witch House is the only structure in Salem still standing that has a direct tie to the Witch Trials of 1692-3 (twenty years after Anne’s death).

A few weeks ago, our group went to see the play From the Author to my Husband at the Salem Witch House. The Salem Witch House is more formally known as the Jonathan Corwin House, but it gets its popular name from Corwin’s role as a judge during the witch trials. As a resident of Peabody, I have been to Salem frequently. I even remember taking a field trip to the Witch House when I was in elementary school. So, when we visited the house for the play, a wave of nostalgia hit as soon as I saw the various rooms: they were very similar to what I remember from that field trip. The house is set up to look like it would have in the seventeenth-century. It has low ceilings and it’s furniture is made of wood and iron. The fireplace is filled with seventeenth-century pots and pans. It gives you a sense of how people lived when Anne Bradstreet was alive.

Upon arriving at the small stage set up in one of the rooms of the Witch House, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the play. Was this play going to be about Anne Bradstreet’s life in third person? Was this play going to be only loosely-based on her life? I went into the theatre with an open mind, intrigued by how Anne was going to be represented on stage.

The play--written by Kristina Wacome Stevick and directed by Kimberly LaCroix--chronicles the life of Anne Bradstreet. The cast is composed of four women, each representing Anne at a different stage of her life. Though Simon, Anne’s sisters, father, and children are incorporated into the dialogue of the play, there are not characters representing them. This way, Anne was central to the performance. The play begins as Anne prepares for her voyage to America from England, it animates her domestic life in Massachusetts, and closes with her loss of multiple family members shortly before her own death. Each actress did a fantastic job portraying her; their lines were funny, sad, and full of life. Watching Anne represented by actual women truly helped me visualize Anne as a living, breathing human being in the past.

The play made many little-known references to Bradstreet’s life and poetry. For example, she frequently mentions a woman named Anne Hutchinson, an infamous Puritan woman who lived in Massachusetts before she was banished for preaching. Bradstreet likely knew Hutchinson in real life, but their relationship is not well documented. The play also weaved Bradstreet’s poetry into the dialogue of the characters. For example, when she first sees her published book of poetry, the actress jestingly exclaims “thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain.” The line was integrated seamlessly into the dialogue and rewards audience members who are familiar with Bradstreet’s work. Similarly, Stevik organized many aspects of the play into fours--like Anne’s early quaternions. For example, as Anne was aging, the season would change. The play begins in spring, and ends in winter as she is mourning her relatives passing away. I found this to be a creative way to integrate aspects of her poetry into the form of the play; one of her longer poems is entitled “The Four Seasons” and the form of the play spoke to the content of this poem.

 We found not one, but two Anne Bradstreets!! Kristina Wacome Stevick (playwright), Rochelle Brothers (fellow), Emma Leaden (fellow), Jacque Denault (Merrimack alum), Isabella Conner (fellow), Macey Jennings (Anne #1), Tess McKinley (Anne #4), Dakota Durbin (fellow), Jessica Melanson (fellow), and Professor Pottroff.

We found not one, but two Anne Bradstreets!! Kristina Wacome Stevick (playwright), Rochelle Brothers (fellow), Emma Leaden (fellow), Jacque Denault (Merrimack alum), Isabella Conner (fellow), Macey Jennings (Anne #1), Tess McKinley (Anne #4), Dakota Durbin (fellow), Jessica Melanson (fellow), and Professor Pottroff.

After the play was over, We got to meet the actresses and playwright. The playwright’s dedication to Anne was impressive. She told us she had spent months researching and reading about Anne’s life. As she was writing and revising the play, she found herself coming even closer to Anne, a fellow female writer.

Experiencing this play at the Witch House added a new layer of my experience with Salem and Anne Bradstreet, especially given that Bradstreet might have known the house and its occupants herself. Perhaps, Simon even visited the house during his lifetime (he moved to Salem shortly after Anne’s death). In many ways, this plays brought us even closer to the life and poetry of Anne Bradstreet.


 
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Jessica Melanson

Jessica Melanson is a Sophomore at Merrimack College. She is an English Major and Education minor. She is involved with Austin Scholars, the Education Club, the Odyssey Online, and works as a lounge assistant on campus. In her free time, she likes to write, is a photographer, and a frequent traveller. She plans on teaching high school students after her graduation in 2021.