Hager Productions – Basic Witches

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Reviewers: Wendi and Benjamin

 

The Takeaways

  • Warmth and support from start to finish
  • Beautiful performances
  • Accountability for their community

 

In our pockets

Wendi: I do not know a lot about the Drag community so that’s probably the main thing in my pockets. I didn’t feel excluded in that space, though, despite not having been to many drag shows in the past.

Benjamin: I know a lot of the folks in the show and was surprised to see so many familiar names in the program book!

 

Design

Wendi: The costumes and make-up were spot on. I love how they invoked images of the witches they were representing with the drag flair. The names were also amazing – I did spend some time trying to figure out who two of the witches were representing, but it was satisfying when it finally clicked.

Benjamin: I agree! Every new costume somehow managed to top the previous one. I loved their bed robes!

Wendi: I will say that the music was SO LOUD – to the point where there were one or two moments where I couldn’t quite understand what the performers were singing, and that frustrated me. That being said, the music was pretty good. Most songs were catchy and fun with the occasional campy-ish (but effective) I WANT songs.

Benjamin: Some of the music in the show made me feel like I was at various clubs in the Gayborhood. Some of the quieter pieces made me feel like I was at The Piano Bar at Tavern on Camac and then the next song would transport me to Voyeur at 2:30 in the morning on a Saturday night.

Wendi: Wow, that’s a great way to put it.

Benjamin: So I personally enjoyed how amped up the bass was for some of the numbers. I do agree that it may have overpowered the vocals and I missed out some of the great lyrics that Robi Hager and John Treacy Egan crafted for this musical.

Wendi: Yes, missing those lyrics was frustrating, because there were a few moments where I really didn’t know what was going on. I was along for the ride, but I was aware that there were stakes around the story that I didn’t understand.

Benjamin: Like what?

Wendi: Well there was a moment where it was time for them to do magic for the title of Supreme Witch – but I thought they had already done that. I was confused by how time passed in those moments – a year, maybe? I’m really not sure.

Benjamin: Yes! I remember being confused by that as well. Because there was a song where each witch made the lights change – it was really engaging, and so I thought it was the Magic portion of the competition, but then The Host (Eric Jaffe) later announced that the competition was coming soon – it got hard to follow.

Wendi: What about the lights?

Benjamin: The lights were the perfect level of campy.

Wendi: Lights had that club aspect for me, and I never felt harassed by them. The set was simple and easy. The costumes take up so much space and I think that was a good call.

Benjamin: I was impressed with how they were able to create wings in such a small space.

Wendi: The design was like a character. It let you know: this isn’t a regular world we are in right now.

 

The performances

Wendi: The highlight was definitely the performers.

Benjamin: Yes! They were always committed to their characters, which was so satisfying. I really appreciated that Bony (Lorenzo Ballesteros) added a layer of brujeria to the show.

Wendi: Yes!

Benjamin: The audience interaction never made me feel anxious like it does in other productions I’ve experienced.

Wendi: I think they talked to some people ahead of time. Which is what you should do. Or they made everyone comfortable enough so it would feel that way.

Benjamin: For sure. All of the performers were really good at feeding on the audience’s energy, as a collective and also with one-on-one moments.

 

The writing

Wendi: The book was lovely. I appreciated the cultural references and metaphors. I think there were a few moments where the story could have used some tightening, and I longed for clearer stakes for everyone. Eddie (Sav Souza) was such a lovely character, but it seemed like they gave up very easily on their goal. I get that they realized it wasn’t really what they wanted, but how they came to that realization wasn’t clear.

Benjamin: I really appreciated how this musical touched on transphobia within the drag community. Oceana served as a nice foil for a generation of folx on the outside, or in between the binary that have suffered prejudice. The musical was written in a way to turn the audience bias against Davanity. 

Wendi: Wow! That’s so interesting. I truly was never rooting for Davanity. I wasn’t sure which Witch to root for actually, I saw them all as the enemies to Eddie which is maybe why I wasn’t as satisfied with the ending. It was fun and low stakes, but I really didn’t get why Punkin’ (Brennen S. Malone) was crowned or what we were supposed to take away from that.

 

Accountability

Wendi: I really appreciated the care they took to call out their own community.

Benjamin: Yes, I think it’s worth it to include the Dramaturg’s note for folx who weren’t able to see this musical, because it so concisely defines the piece’s terms surrounding identity:

Transgender is an umbrella term for people who defy social expectations of how they should look, act, or identify based on their birth sex. This umbrella is expansive and some examples include everything from transgender women & men (people who were assigned female & male identifiers at birth, but knew themselves as something different) non-binary people, (a group that includes people who do not identify with gender at all, more than one gender, or a gender that is neither male nor female) and gender non-conforming people (a group that some include under non-binary, characterized by a general eschewing of conventional expectations of gender all together). These are just some of the wide expanse of transgender communities. While the conversation around transgender rights in the United States may seem fairly new, this has been an active social identity stretching back millennia with similar concepts present on every continent across the globe, such as the Cultists of Cybele in Ancient Greece, the Two-Spirit Shamans of indigenous American cultures, the Hijra of India, and even playing a significant role in European High Courts through the Renaissance.

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