Newswise — EVANSTON - Called “a play about witches, with no witches in it” by playwright Caryl Churchill, “Vinegar Tom” follows the lives of seven characters, four of whom will be executed, in 17th century England.

Northwestern University’s Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts presents “Vinegar Tom” from Feb. 2 to 11 in the Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston.

Written in 1976 by the famously feminist Churchill, the play uses a witch hunt to reveal how nonconformist women who fail to fit into the narrowly defined social categories of the patriarchy were frequently labelled witches.

Alice sleeps with a man she does not know. Her mother, Joan, owns an old cat and curses when her neighbors are cruel to her. Betty does not want to marry the man she is supposed to marry. Susan doesn’t want to be pregnant. These women are subjected to the humiliating investigations of doctors and witch hunters and forced into self-loathing, panic and hatred. The play is striking beyond its historical setting in its depiction of women’s subjugation and repression.

MFA directing candidate Lee Hannah Conrads sets the production in a ruined music hall that has been broken into by an itinerant rock band. The group puts on a cabaret performance of the play springing from song lyrics written by the playwright.

“The play was selected for production shortly after the Trump election, but now, in the wake of #MeToo, the play is even more timely,” Conrads said. “The setting, suggestive of the Aragon Ballroom on Chicago’s north side, symbolizes the crumbling of patriarchy.”

Performances of “Vinegar Tom” are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and are part of the Wirtz Center’s 2017/18 mainstage season.

Single tickets are $25 for the general public; $22 for seniors (62+) and area educators; $20 for Northwestern emeritus, faculty and staff; $10 for students with valid ID; and $6 in advance or $10 at the door for Northwestern students. 

Tickets are available online at the Wirtz Center website, by phone at 847-491-7282 or in person at the Wirtz Center box office in the Barber Theater lobby, 30 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston.    

Box office hours are Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. The Box Office is closed Sundays and Mondays. 

Related events

17th-Century Witchcraft and 1970s Feminism

Friday, Feb. 9, following the 7:30 p.m. performance
Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive

Northwestern faculty and members of the “Vinegar Tom” artistic team participate in a post-show discussion of the play that will touch on themes of witchcraft, expectations of femininity and persecution of women in 17th-century England. The panel features Lydia Barnett, assistant professor in the department of history; Tracy C. Davis, Barber Professor of Performing Arts and professor of theatre, English and performance studies; Lee Hannah Conrads, MFA directing candidate; and production team and cast members. The panel is moderated by Rosie Roche, Northwestern Arts Circle manager.

Pre-show reception hosted by Change Makers   

Thursday, Feb. 8, 6:30 p.m.
Josephine Louis Theater lobby, 20 Arts Circle Drive

The Northwestern Women’s Center celebrates its 30th anniversary with a year of programming on the theme of critical intersections. Alumni and current members of the year-long Change Makers program host a special pre-show reception that will include discussion prompts for an informal conversation about gender and identity in the lobby.

Chicago Theatre Week

Feb. 8 to 18
Various locations

Performances of “Vinegar Tom” from Feb. 8 to 11 are included in the sixth annual Chicago Theatre Week, which celebrates the rich tradition of theater-going in Chicago with value-priced tickets for more than 120 shows. “Vinegar Tom” tickets are $15 each with code CTW2018.

Chicago Theatre Week is presented by the League of Chicago Theatres with support from Choose Chicago. More information is available on the Chicago Theatre Week website.  

The Wirtz Center is a member of the Northwestern Arts Circle, which brings together film, humanities, literary arts, music, theater, dance and visual arts.