If the title of Ignite! Community Theatre's new production leaves you somewhat bewildered and a little intrigued, that's kind of the point. Two Witches, No Waiting, written by prolific playwright Pat Cook, capitalizes on an air of mischief and mystery that two sisters cultivate when the circumstances require it.
"The title is taken from one of the lines near the end of the play," says Director Troy Heppner. "And it really is apropos. It's spoken by one of the sisters' son as people are rushing out of the house, basically stating, 'This is what you think, [but] this is what you get.' When you hear the line toward the end of the play, you go, 'Oh, now I get it.'"
Despite — or because of — its Texas setting, Heppner says that Two Witches, No Waiting is often described as a "Southern comedy," a label that not only suits the play but captures one of its charms.
"It's a Southern comedy without making fun of the Southern culture. We've all seen plays where they present Southerners as caricatures and they're wacky or zany, whereas this play could easily take place in Spokane," he says.
There's a similar adaptability to the play's themes, which is why Heppner sees the post-Halloween opening as a nonissue.
"This could present any time of year. My biggest qualm with the play was its title. We associate witches with Halloween, but truly it's more about people who are different."
The play's central premise is that the two "mature" sisters, Arlene (Kris Behr) and Elzbeth (Moira Moore), are suspected by the local townspeople of dabbling in witchcraft. At least, that's what the outward signs would indicate. The two sisters live together in a large historic home where they practice strange herbal medicine and keep secretive rooms.
Then their housekeeper Opal (Kathy Bowers) begins spreading rumors of something sinister afoot — right before she goes missing. But is it the sisters who are sinister? Or is something else going on?
"As it turns out, a big conglomerate and entrepreneur wants to buy their land so that he can knock down the house and build a resort. And his daughter is dating one of the sisters' son. So the father, the entrepreneur who wants the land, is kind of using their relationship to get what he wants," Heppner explains. The land developer, the archly named Eustace Sternwood, is played by Dan Griffiths.
And romantic ties aren't the only trick up Eustace's sleeve. He also tries using the negative rumors to turn the town against Arlene and Elzbeth.
"It turns out the community likes them. They think of their suspected witchcraft as just an eccentricity, and the things they do, like herbal potions, are beneficial. They help their community and are a part of their community."
This being a community-oriented production, there's an ensemble cast of both veteran and new actors from the area. The cast of characters also includes the local sheriff (Jerry Uppinghouse), Arlene's son Marcus (Jacob Carruthers), his fiancée Kit (Kimber Kettler) and the sisters' new housekeeper Bonnie (Julie Berghammer).
"You can tell there's something going on between Jeremy and Bonnie, even though his girlfriend is the daughter of the businessman," says Heppner. As director, he has a particular soft spot for the dynamic between the sisters.
"Elzbeth, actually the younger of the sisters, is a trickster. She likes to stir the pot. She'll do things that seem odd or bizarre, but Arlene, the perfect Southern lady, always has a good explanation of what Elzbeth just did. As a matter of fact, there are a couple of lines where she is known as 'Arlene the explainer.' To me, that's a lot of fun," he says.
For Heppner, though, the most fun comes from the way a play like Two Witches, No Waiting embodies what Ignite! and the local grassroots community theater scene is all about.
"I am so thankful that there are people willing to put in a time commitment on a strictly volunteer basis. I've met people doing theater that I have been friends and acquaintances with for decades," he says. "The truth is that theater in Spokane is a big family." ♦
Two Witches, No Waiting • Nov. 9-25; Fri-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 2 pm • $15 • Ignite! Community Theatre • 10814 E. Broadway Ave., Spokane Valley • igniteonbroadway.org • 795-0004