Byt Tulis McCall

Here’s the thing about Deirdre O’Connell: she commits to every role she plays with such ferocity that you buy into whatever it is she is selling.  She could be doing a play about automatic garage door openers and she would make you want to go out and get one, even though you don’t own a garage, a garage door, or even car.  It wouldn’t matter.

And with Becky Nurse of Salem, by Sarah Ruhl, now at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, we buy in O’Connell as we always do.  The question is – what are we buying into and why is it so hard to figure out?

Facts – it is a bad day for Becky Nurse (O’Connell) – and yes this is her real name.  Becky is a descendant of Rebecca Nurse who was executed for being a witch.  Present day Becky is a tour guide at the Salem Witch Museum and not popular with her boss, Shelby (Tina Benko) on account of she goes off script, and usually with a few vulgarities thrown in for good measure.  Becky is also a vehement supporter of the notion that she knows more about Salem than almost anyone.  For example she knows that the Gallows Tree (named for, well, you know) was not located at the present site of Walmart but was located at the present site of a lesser known Dunkin’ Donuts.

Soon Becky is fired from her job – more or less on General Principle.  Which puts her smack dab in the middle of her miserable life.  No job.  No money.  No idea how she will support her granddaughter Gail (Alicia Crowder).  An empty life.  Until she is told to look up a local witch (Candy Buckley) who comes well recommended.  In order to do that Becky must borrow from her friend with whom she wishes she might have benefits, Bob (Bernard White).

For the most part we follow Becky as she flings herself against the tide of disappointment that threatens to swallow her whole.  She tries all the spells suggested by the witch and they all work.  Until they don’t.  Becky’s arrested for giving a tour without a license and for possession of the wax statue of her ancestor, the Rebecca of old.  She spends a considerable time in jail being visited by dreams that take her back in time and by people in the now time.  Bob falls for her, then leaves, then returns etc. etc.  Gail’s boyfriend from rehab, Stan (Julian Sanchez) keeps popping up like a bad penny.  Even the Witch shows up – or is she the real witch?

Becky keeps up the good grumbling fight until she has her day in court where she delivers a defense that says more than the entire play does.  Up until this point the play had been more “this happened and then that happened,” with no direction or arc.  It was a wandering piece of dialogues that never connected, but instead sent wisps of ideas up into the air where they floated away, leaving us bewildered.

In her defense in court, however, Becky Nurse compares the present time of panic, pandemic and drug use to the time in Salem when women were not allowed to grieve or ask for help.  She ruminates on how she let her daughter become an addict and let her own life go so far off track.  She closes her defense thusly:

“The Sacklers should be in fucking jail, I should not be in fucking jail.

Sorry, Judge… I’ll be punished for the rest of my life. I don’t ask that you pity me—I do ask that you imagine me to be real.”

And there we have it.  “Imagine me to be real.” That is the one thing for which Becky – and all of us – search for.  She was doing it all the time, but we didn’t notice because there was no clarity in the writing that was guiding the story.  Glad I stuck around for the whole show because otherwise I never would have known, in spite of the magnificent efforts of Ms. O’Connell and the rest of this very fine cast.  Indeed.

“Imagine me to be real” – and may I do the same for you.


Becky Nurse of Salem by Sarah Ruhl, Directed by Rebecca Teichman

WITH Tina Bento, Candy Buckley, Alicia Crowder, Deidre O’Connell, Thomas Jay Ryan, Julian Sanchez and Bernard White

Sets – Riccardo Hernández, Costumes – Emily Rebholz, Lighting – Barbara Samuels

Becky Nurse of Salem TICKETS HERE