Richland, Washington is a real place where playwright Tim Mulligan grew up, and it’s where he set his first play, Witchland.
Richland ranks number five as one of the safest cities in Washington State. The Columbia River runs through it, which means water sports are very much a part of their culture. Today the town has about 65,000 people – bigger than Palm Springs where Witchland is being produced by The Revolution Stage Company after a sold out run in San Diego. This is only its second production before it heads to Off-Broadway for a run in April.
Although it is Mulligan’s first play, he is no stranger to theatre.
“I’ve been involved with theaters, but from the business side – I was on [theatre company] boards for years, especially in San Diego,” he explains. “I usually see everything, and one thing that I felt was missing as a genre in theater was a scary play.”
So he wrote one.
Based on the history and lore of Richland, the jump-scare play mixes fact with fiction, and begins long before Jared uproots his family from San Diego to Richland for a high paying job at the Hanford Nuclear Reactor.
Today the Hanford site encompasses 586 square miles with nine reactors, all now closed and under clean-up, having caused thyroid cancer in many of its residents going as far back as the 1940s when it was built. These people were called Downwinders.
From the Nuclear Museum: “Downwinders” are loosely defined as those individuals that lived “downwind” from nuclear production facilities or nuclear test sites. In the United States, Downwinder communities exist primarily in the Pacific Northwest and intermountain range between the Cascades and the Rockies, in states like Nevada, Utah, Washington, Idaho, and New Mexico. Downwinders also exist at former Manhattan Project sites including, but not limited to, Oak Ridge, Fernald, and Rocky Flats, where airborne radiation was released offsite. Due to American atmospheric nuclear testing, Downwinder communities also exist throughout the Marshall Islands. Richland was one of those communities.
“Both of my parents worked [at the Hanford Reactor]” he says when asked about fear of getting cancer. “No one talks about the dying. It was never brought up; I only learned about it in school.”
Mulligan graduated from high school the same year as the Chernobyl accident, the same year they stopped producing plutonium at Hanford.
“They put out the reports, and the downwinder lawsuit was created, and … it’s just never talked about.”
That in itself is pretty scary stuff to learn about another buried secret in a play, but then there’s the witch.
“This was a big part of our life – the witch and her sticks,” says Mulligan, as he retells the story.
She lived in one of the government houses, the ones they built for the workers back in the 1940s. Called the ABC houses, different styles had different letters of the alphabet. Of course one of them was dark and scary. Doesn’t every town have one of those? But the sticks were another thing.
“I don’t know what year, but I was told in high school that a witch lived there. My friends and I would go there and she always had a pile of sticks on the sidewalk – in a weird little pyramid shape. And there’s this rumor that if you knock them over and come back a little bit later, there’ll be a new pile there.”
All of this lore becomes a creep fest at the hands of Mulligan, when he relocates Van and Jared and their adopted daughter, Ali (who is black), to Richland, a town where they are decidedly … unique. They are temporarily housed across the street from the witch’s house, and those who are feverishly caught in its spell. Combine that with radiation sickness, and it’s an American nightmare. Which is just what Mulligan was going for.
It’s an immersive experience. From the moment you walk in everything says “Danger, Will Robinson” because Mulligan wants you scared out of your wits. Just like he likes it.
The collaboration with Revolution Stage Company (RSC) happened because producing partners Gary Powers and James Owens are looking to shake up theatre-goers’ expectations with the unexpected. They loved the immersive nature of the piece.
“We hired director Richard Blake who brought his vision – audience members being met by folks in hazmat suits, brought into a nuclear reactor plant, witches everywhere. It’s a scary adventure. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea,” Powers admits, “but presenting something new and different in the Valley is part of our mission. We think Palm Springs is ready for innovative and fresh new works. We’re hoping Palm Springs agrees.”
Witchland startles February 6 (preview) thru March 2, 2024
at Click Here, 611 S. Palm Canyon, Palm Springs, CA
Prepare for a scare. Click Here to Buy Tickets