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April 17, 2009

Vinegar Tom

ISU Theatre stages the feminist drama Vinegar Tom April 30-May 3. Pictured are juniors Courtney Gevaert and David Faber. Photo by Patrick Gouran.

ISU Theatre stages edgy Vinegar Tom for season finale

by Paula Van Brocklin

ISU Theatre turns up the heat in its final production this academic year with the avant-garde feminist play, Vinegar Tom. The show runs April 30 through May 3 in the Maintenance Shop, Memorial Union.

Set in 17th-century England when women on the fringes of society were regularly tried for witchcraft, this play explores fear, religious hypocrisy and exploitation through the lives of seven women.

The plot centers on Alice (junior Courtney Gevaert), a young, poor woman with an illegitimate child. She's having an affair with Jack (junior Jacob Wittenauer), who is married to Margery (senior Kelly Teitsworth). Margery and Jack, considered middle class because they own land and cattle, have a loveless marriage.

The play's title references a 17th-century notion that cats carried messages from Satan to witches. Vinegar Tom is the name of a cat that belongs to one of the alleged witches in the play.

Vinegar Tom was written in 1976 by British playwright Caryl Churchill, who was inspired by the feminist movement. Churchill purposely juxtaposes scenes of 1600s England with modern-day music to strike a chord between past and present perceptions of women, creating a challenge for ISU Theatre director Sarah Zwick-Tapley.

"Combining period scenes with contemporary music makes for wonderful commentary, but it's easy to hit the audience over the head with messages," Zwick-Tapley said. "I've worked to walk a fine line, and not simplify these peoples' stories into politics."

Zwick-Tapley said ISU Theatre typically stages one performance a year in the Maintenance Shop. The intense subject matter of Vinegar Tom was a natural fit for the intimacy the M-Shop offers.

"Smaller spaces help audience members become more emotionally involved [with the characters]," Zwick-Tapley said. "For such an emotionally charged play as Vinegar Tom, it's wonderful to be able to have the audience so close emotionally and physically."

Due to language, sexual content and violence, the play is recommended for mature audiences. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m.; the Sunday matinee begins at 2 p.m. Cost is $14, $12 for seniors and $7 for students. Tickets are available at the M-Shop Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by calling 4-8349.


"For such an emotionally charged play as Vinegar Tom, it's wonderful to be able to have the audience so close emotionally and physically."

Sarah Zwick-Tapley