2012-11-14 / Features

APAC’s Billy Witch: A Dark, Wild Ride


Nicholas Urda and Dawn Luebbe as Counselor James and Counselor Becky in APAC’s Billy Witch. 
Photos Michael R. Dekker Nicholas Urda and Dawn Luebbe as Counselor James and Counselor Becky in APAC’s Billy Witch. Photos Michael R. Dekker Billy Witch, the show currently on board at Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC), may have an unpredictable effect on you. If you loved summer camp as a kid, I predict you will love it…at first. If you hated summer camp, it will probably make you remember why. Since I have mixed feelings about summer camp, well, I had rather mixed feelings about the show. Billy Witch is a riotous comedy, packed with outstanding actors, a simple, yet haunting and inventive set designed by Tim Brown, beautifully evocative lighting and sound designed by Marie Yokoyama and Chris Barlow respectively, and all kinds of other great effects and surprises. I loved the “welcome to camp” opening, and immediately felt drawn in to the spirit of the thing. Then, the story grew dark, and aspects of it began to make me feel genuinely uncomfortable. However, having faith in writer Gregory S. Moss, Director Erik Pearson and Artistic Director Tom Wojtunik, all of whom I know to be brilliant theater professionals, I decided to give it a chance and see where it was going.

Seamus Mulcahy as camper Oliver, and John Patrick Doherty as Camp Director P.D. Lockwood. Seamus Mulcahy as camper Oliver, and John Patrick Doherty as Camp Director P.D. Lockwood. Billy Witch is the story of an adolescent boy, Oliver, who’s the new kid at Blue Triangle Camp. When he arrives, he finds the other kids are already well initiated into the rituals of camp life—and are maybe just a little jaded. Sexuality is thick in the air. The bizarre camp director hauls around a green trunk that he stands on to make speeches—you get a creepy feeling from him right away. Then, the campers gather to tell the newcomers the story of Billy Witch, the ghost of the camp, who died locked in a closet years ago. With this horror story fresh in his mind, Oliver sneaks out at night to meet the girl he’s fallen for, Miranda, who’s as innocent as he. She’s somewhat more ready to bloom sexually than he is though, and this awakening seems to be turning her into a strange creature indeed. As a matter of fact, some of the other campers appear to be morphing into something else too, something not quite human. In the meantime, Billy Witch has appeared to Oliver and only to him. Through Oliver, he exacts his just revenge on the camp director, and, as the other kids go home, having left adolescence behind, Oliver feels he’s finally growing up too.

I ultimately realized that there was a powerful symbolism at work here: becoming an adult is a strange, mysterious, and sometimes terrifying process. And summer camp can be just the place to explore it. The message had a strong effect on me because I found myself resisting it. I wanted camp to be a kinder and more innocent place. Then I remembered; it never was. But the aspect of the play I had the most difficulty with was the character of Camp Director P.D. Lockwood. The level of his misogyny was so disturbing I had a moment of wondering whether I really wanted to be there in the theater. Some shocked faces in the audience reflected that others might have felt that way too. But, as I expressed before, Moss and Pearson knew just how to resolve the situation to my ultimate satisfaction. Moss’ absurdist script is exquisitely funny, and the actors all brought their utmost to it. Standouts were Dawn Luebbe as Counselor Becky, Nicholas Urda as Counselor James, John Patrick Doherty as P.D. Lockwood, Eric Bryant as Arden, Aimee Howard as Miranda, Liz Wisan as Sandy, and of course, Seamus Mulcahy as Oliver. Andy Phelan, the actor who played “The Kid”, whom I assumed represented Billy Witch, was especially compelling. He played his part with a spooky subtlety that transcended ghostly stereotypes. Whenever he was on stage, I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

Be warned, Billy Witch is a play for adult audiences, those willing to suspend disbelief, and enter a frightening world they thought they’d left behind. It’s a fascinating night of theater though and a wild ride for your money. Get tickets now at APACNY.org. Billy Witch closes November 17.

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