SycoraxA Play by Susan Gayle Todd

Performed at the Gemini Playhouse June 17-20 and 24-27, 2010

Review by Michael Meigs at
Review by Georgia Young at the Austinist
Review by Ryan E. Johnson of the Austin Examiner

The Weird Sisters are proud to have performed an original work by one of our founding members, Susan Gayle Todd.  Though the play was a departure from our rollicking comedies of the previous years, we still worked in our collaborative method, sharing ideas, techniques, and jobs.  We are proud to have shared this powerful work with a new audience.

Our press release from the show:
Sexuality.  Power.  Oppression.  Magic.  It’s a take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest that you’ve never seen – feminist theater at its most incendiary.  An original work written and collaboratively directed by co-founder, Susan Todd, The Weird Sisters Women’s Theater Collective performs Sycorax beginning in June at the Gemini Playhouse in South Austin.

Austin’s favorite all-woman troupe’s sixth annual production features New York’s Azure Osborne-Lee as Sycorax, a healer of Algiers who rises to prominence through her arts – and through her relationship with the enigmatic spirit, Ariel.  When a catastrophic storm destroys Algiers, Sycorax is blamed.  Stripped of her power and her lover, she is cast out and later marooned to become the “witch” of the isle from The Tempest.

Playwright’s Notes

Shakespeare’s The Tempest has two female characters:  Miranda, daughter of patriarch and protagonist Prospero; and another who never appears, but is only mentioned: Sycorax.  All we know of her comes from Prospero, the patriarch who has usurped her island, and from her son, Caliban, who appears to have only distant memories of his mother.  Prospero refers to Sycorax as a deformed, damned witch who committed unspeakable acts during her life. She is vilified not only for her gender, but also for her age and race.

I wrote Sycorax to challenge assumptions about this silenced female character.  As reclaimer of Sycorax’s story, I recognize the racism in Prospero’s (or Shakespeare’s) remarks; they sound exactly like the kinds of racist slurs I heard while growing up in a small Texas town in the sixties:  disparaging remarks about Sycorax’s sexuality and body, rendering her of no account:  “a foul witch” whose body was doubled over “with age;” a damn’d witch”; a “blue-eyed hag,” pregnant, and abandoned on an island by sailors.

Prospero refers to Sycorax and her son with language more befitting animals than human beings: “the son that she did litter here, a freckled whelp, hag-born . . . got by the devil himself upon [his] wicked dam” (1.2).  But in the text’s sparse references to Sycorax, I also find her power.  In spite of his slurs, Prospero envies Sycorax’s ability as “one so strong she could control the moon, make flows and ebbs. And deal in her command, without her power…” (1.2).   Caliban, too, remembers her power, her god named Setebos, her island, which he inherited when she died.

From these clues, I constructed an epic history.  In my re-telling, Sycorax is a black, lesbian healer who rises to power, but is eventually scapegoated and banished from her home in Algiers.

We hope you find her story, as we do, worthy of a Shakespearean hero.

-Susan Gayle Todd, Author, Co-Director

* * *

The Players:
Hollie Baker – Cready, Citizen
Rachel Florence Briles – Miranda, Ashel, Circumcised Girl, Blind Beggar, Sprite, Puppeteer
Alyson Curtis – Barleycorn, Citizen, Puppeteer
Noelle Fitzsimmons – Clare
Christa French – Bella, Citizen, Sprite
Courtney Glenn – Officer Dunlop, Governor of Algiers, Sprite, Mother of Circumcised Girl,
Feliz Dia McDonald – Ariel
Azure D. Osborne-Lee – Caliban, Sycorax
Rae Petersen – Talma, John Foote
Penny Smith – John Stone, Citizen, Sprite, Puppeteer
Vicki Yoder – Prospero, Officer Burns, Advisor, Aunt of Circumcised Girl

The Crew

Composer and Sound Design – Chris Humphrey
Lighting Design – Paige Binder
Lighting Assistant –  Becky Johnson
Puppet Master – Cecil Hynds-Riddle
Dance Choreography – Feliz Dia McDonald, Christa French
Dramaturgy –  Margaux Binder, Cecil Hynds-Riddle
Set Design – Margaux Binder, Rae Petersen
Official Needlers – Cindy Smith and Rae Petersen
Front of House – Sandy Givens, Cecil Hynds-Riddle
Graphic Design & Publicity – Alyson Curtis
General Crew Awesomeness – See all names listed above.