Revolution Stage Company producers Gary Powers and James Owens have done it again, pushing the envelope to bring unique entertainment to their new theater company’s growing audiences.
Beware of Witchland, which comes to Palm Springs after a successful run in San Diego, and before it heads Off-Broadway in April. It combines B-horror-movie action (in a good way) with a little bit of Scooby-Doo, Knott’s Scary Farm haunted-house antics, and a touch of the 1960s TVs series Dark Shadows. The result is a lot of over-the-top, cult-campy fun.
The story is based on author Tim Mulligan’s experience growing up in Richland, Wash., once deemed “the most toxic place in the Western Hemisphere.” It tells the story of a white gay couple who moves to Richland with their Black teenage daughter, Ali (Tiffany Johnson). Working-dad Jared (Jason Reale) has to temporarily relocate the family to a retro 1950s government housing development, because he has taken on a new job at the Hanford nuclear reactor site. His husband, the flamboyant and hilarious Van (Brent Anderson), is unhappy about the move; however, the stay-at-home dad keeps a tidy house and continues to celebrate his sobriety.
In perfect B-horror-movie fashion, two drunken and horny teenagers, Brett (Christopher Lopez) and Shannon (Sarah Woolsey), find themselves at the rundown home of a sinister woman, Judith James (Katrina Dixon). The woman keeps a tempting pile of sticks on her front porch; legend has it that if you take the sticks, terrible things will begin to happen. Shannon pushes over the sticks and ends up accidentally taking one … and then she slowly begins to lose her mind.
Over a few weeks, there is more trouble: Jared is exposed to toxic waste vapors, and Van has begun falling off the wagon. Meanwhile, Ali has learned she is the only Black kid in town—and has to hide the fact that she has two dads. Oh, and Judith keeps popping up, while a foreboding misty fog floats above.
During a quarrel with Van, Jared tempts fate by going next door to test the rumors about swiping the pile of sticks. Cue the evil soap opera music. At various moments throughout the story, a baby is heard crying.
Katrina Dixon is perfectly cast as the heavily shrouded, creepy Judith. She effortlessly floats in and out of scenes—screeching, cackling and chanting.
Brent Anderson has one of the best comedic scenes when he goes next door to confront Judith. With a hilarious Paul Lynde-style delivery, he makes the most out of the sassy confrontation, receiving some of the biggest laughs of the evening. Reale has the most fun with his role while his character is possessed; he plays it to the hilt.
Tiffany Johnson, as the concerned daughter who decides to investigate the mystery behind Judith, keeps the audience guessing right along with her as she wonders why all of the trauma and drama is happening. Her over-acting fits perfectly in the B-movie style.
Adding to the delicious absurdity of the evening is a “serious” flashback sequence involving young Judith (Candace Coe) that takes a page right out of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. Coe made several audience members cringe and gasp throughout her mind-boggling contortionist display. Creepy and fun—good job!
During the intermission, a retro announcement offers a horrifyingly hilarious message about what to do in case of nuclear fallout, continuing the sweet ridiculousness of the B-movie horror theme. Isaac Gaeta-Tollette, Arianna Godwin and Zoe Sanchez round out the cast as hazmat workers and townspeople.
Director Richard S. Blake pulls from the best and worst of the campy-horror genre to keep the story interesting. Through his strong tongue-in-cheek direction, the cast remains committed and honest. Rodney Dobbs gives a low-budget movie-set quality to his functional design. The special effects that occur within the set deliver some of the most outstanding moments of the evening.
If you enjoy scary, quirky B-movie stories, then Witchland is definitely for you—and a scream-filled bloody ending will leave you tingling with laughter.
Witchland will be performed on various days through Saturday, March 2, at the Revolution Stage Company, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. There will be a talkback with the playwright and director following the Saturday, Feb. 10 performance. Tickets are $35 to $45. For tickets or more information, visit www.revolutionstagecompany.com.