My Witch: The Margaret Hamilton Stories

Jean Tafler stars in Fat Knight Theatre’s production of My Witch: The Margaret Hamilton Stories at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, NY. Original photo by Michael Eric Berube.
You’ve gotta let me know if you think Margaret Hamilton is more scary as a ghost or a wicked witch!

By Andrew Andrews

Maggie Hamilton appeared in more than seventy movies, but most people only know her for one role, in which she spent only twelve minutes on screen.

That role, of course, is The Wicked Witch of the West and her Kansas counterpart, Almira Gulch.

Released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz didn’t become famous until CBS started to broadcast the film in 1956, eventually making it an annual tradition and ingraining it into the American psyche.

In My Witch, Hamilton (played by Jean Tafler) speaks about her life in Hollywood, on the stage in New York, as a single mother, opening multiple nursery schools, and retiring to Cape Island off Southport, Maine.

Recalling various derogatory nicknames, encounters with children too young to separate the actress from her infamous character, and moments with Hollywood celebrities from Oz and beyond, Hamilton addresses the audience while she prepares her off-the-grid island cottage for visitors that are expected to appear in a rowboat once the thunderstorm outside breaks.

The story of Margaret Hamilton is certainly interesting, and having excerpts full of funny quotes told seemingly first-hand makes for a pleasant evening.

This production is part of a traveling show from Fat Knight Theatre (co-produced by Snowlion Rep), and bookends Bridge Street Theatre’s comeback season, which began with Miss Gulch Returns! about the fictional real life of the witch’s alter-ego.

In between the two one-person shows, we were treated to two family dramas with larger casts: first, Lewiston, about the estranged family of a descendant of Meriwether Lewis, then their five-star performance of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day Journey into Night.

Tafler’s portrayal is top notch—it’s easy to forget that Hamilton left us more than thirty-five years ago—and her professionalism was even more clear as she struggled with a sound system malfunction during half of the performance.

The set is, quite frankly, better than it needs to be for a show at this price point, and the makeup and costuming help transform Tafler into such a convincing Hamilton. Likewise, the creative use of many photographs and other props added a certain subtle sense of reality to the show.

The script by John Ahlin seems quite factual, with special thanks to Hamilton’s son and his wife indicating that it meets the family’s approval. Unfortunately, however, accuracy doesn’t equate to drawing power, and the lack of tension in most of this “recollection” results in a story that doesn’t even grab hold, let alone hang on.

With the Omicron variant threatening further shutdowns, and attendance for most off-Broadway shows already pretty measly, I wouldn’t blame theatre companies who decide to shelf their production plans for at least the next few months. It’s already uncertain when Bridge Street will open its doors to the public again, which means My Witch might be your last opportunity to enjoy a professional production in Greene County in the near future.

The script alone might not be very compelling, but if the words “last chance” don’t get you back into the theatre, I don’t know what will.

3

Andrew Andrews attended My Witch: The Margaret Hamilton Stories at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill on Saturday, December 4, 2021 @ 7:30pm to write this review.

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