The theater roars with laughter as the crowd eagerly watches five women dressed head-to-toe in Puritanical garb huddling together, passing around an invisible newt and reciting ancient spells. There’s one thing for sure: this isn’t your average re-enactment of the Salem Witch Trials.
Showing three nights a week, Jet City Improv has shown their audience an exact replica of this iconic series of trials… well, sort of. The show is titled “Blak Cloud,” referencing a letter written by General William Phips describing Salem’s tumultuous social climate during this unfortunate period of Massachusetts history. Taking these historic events and transforming them into a surrealist reality, Jet City Improv gives the audience the ability to change the course of history—even if it may be comical. Described as “’Mean Girls’ meets ‘The Crucible’” by director Graham Downing, “Blak Cloud” shows how interpersonal relationships in 1692 Massachusetts led to accusations and executions in Salem.
There is an air of enthusiasm that reverberates through the theater as the storyline of the Salem Witch Trials unfolds in this contemporary remake. Due to the nature of improvisational theater, there is an understanding between the actors and the audience that the story could change at any moment, resulting in an exhilarating—and, quite possibly, hilarious—experience for both parties.
For what could have been an exceedingly dark story of betrayal and corruption, this particular show took on a buoyant and comical tone for its entirety. Only from my seat in the front row could I catch glimpses of the actors strategically concealing their own laughter as the audience enjoyed the clever spontaneity of this talented cast. One memorable scene featured an infertile couple paying tribute to their diseased newborn babies, reciting their carefully chosen names: “Jezediah, Jebediah, Jedediah Two and Perseverance.”
The cast remains unnamed at the start of the show and, as their traits become more evident through the live script, the actors determine fitting titles for their roles. Sarah Good, the town’s unoffending widow, is burdened by the catty quarrels of her fellow female villagers, who serve as pillars of classical feminine stereotypes.
The show’s female leads were named Salvation, Chastity and Patience—all ironically, of course. The characters’ clever rapport kept the audience engaged. One quarrel focused on an extramarital affair Chastity had with Sarah Good’s husband before his sudden death that resulted in a horrific rash—the correlation need not be explained.
Throughout the production, these women contrive a series of baseless claims invented purely to cure their own boredom. The inescapable premise of the show comes to the forefront when Sarah Good is officially charged with practicing witchcraft and worshipping the devil. Her peers question her loyalty, but it is the audience who determines her fate: freedom or burning at the stake.
Upon entering the theater, audience members receive a small pouch containing one white pebble and one black, representing the innocence or guilt of Sarah Good. Through a majority ruling, the audience at my showing sympathized with the virtuous character by declaring her innocent. Yet, man’s morbid curiosity rang true with the conviction of another female villager, thus concluding the show.
Throughout the performance, I had to keep reminding myself that the performances were indeed spontaneous—the fluidity of the cast’s acting kept convincing me otherwise. Their constant flow of witty exchanges was proof that this production took careful preparation. It was clear that the depth of understanding these actors had with each individual’s acting techniques to result in great camaraderie.
“Blak Cloud” runs until Nov. 22 at Jet City Improv in the University District. Showings are on Thursday through Sunday and tickets range from $12 to $15.