Theatre UAB presents “Vinegar Tom,” directed by Luke Harlan, Nov. 9-12 and Nov. 16-19

Theatre UAB alumnus Luke Harlan, newly graduated from Yale School of Drama, returns to direct a provocative play that examines gender and power through the lens of the 17th century witchcraft trials in England.

vinegar tomRussell Alexander, Elizabeth Forman and Alex Ingram in Theatre UAB’s production of “Vinegar Tom."  “Would they have called you a witch then?”

That is the question asked by a chorus of modern women in the play “Vinegar Tom,” as Theatre UAB ventures into the depths of an age-old fear and perhaps finds it is not so old after all. Written at the height of the second feminist movement in the 20th century, writer Caryl Churchill’s provocative play examines gender and power relationships through the lens of the witchcraft trials of the 17th century.

Theatre UAB is the performance company of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Theatre, part of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Vinegar Tom” is set for shows at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9-12 and 16-18, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, in UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, Odess Theatre. This show has adult themes. Tickets are $15, $6 for students, and $10 for UAB employees and senior citizens. For tickets, call 205-975-2787 or go to Visit Theatre UAB online at

Churchill wrote “Vinegar Tom” in 1976 in collaboration with a company called Monstrous Regiment after finding similar interests and obsessions with the members. The result is a stunning portrait of one of the darkest chapters of modern history, says Director Luke Harlan, MFA, a 2008 graduate of the Department of Theatre.

“This is not a play about witches, or witch hunters, or a bygone era or things that happened over there way back when,” Harlan said. “This is not just a play about women, or feminism, or sexism or any of the many -isms that lead to violence. This is a play about a culture ruled by fear. It is about the way we as a society treat those who are different.”

In the midst of the most divisive election in modern history, and on the brink of possibly electing the country’s first female president, the play is timely because it tells a tale of fear of the other, Harlan says.

“Churchill, in her brilliance, does all of this with humor and intellect,” he said. “Our guides through this journey of fear and accusation are a modern chorus of women, beckoning us, showing us and challenging us to ask ourselves the question, ‘would they have called you a witch then?’ This play shows us the perils of letting ourselves be ruled by fear.”

luke harlanLuke Harlan. Photo credit T. Charles Ericsson.  After graduating from UAB, Harlan spent six years as a freelance director in New York City, where he directed the world premiere of the New York Times Critic’s Pick “Honky” by Greg Kalleres, co-wrote and performed in the critically acclaimed “home/sick” by The Assembly, and directed numerous world premieres with some of the country’s most exciting playwrights.

Harlan’s work has been seen from San Francisco to New York, downtown and Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally at such places as the Old Vic Theatre in London. He then went to study at the Yale School of Drama, where he directed eight productions, including Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” and Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth,” as well as plays by Will Eno, Greg Keller and Tarell Alvin McCraney. Harlan was also the co-artistic director of the Yale Summer Cabaret and founding artistic director of Engine Company No. 11. After graduating with his Master of Fine Arts degree, Harlan was assistant director of the premiere of “The Square Root of Three Sisters” with visionary Russian director Dmitry Krymov. Read more at

The faculty and staff working with the production include Marlene Johnson, vocal direction; Olivia Skillern, set; J. Marc Quattlebaum, props; Kimberly Schnormeier, costumes; Elliot Johnson, lighting; and Sean Allan Doyle, sound. Original music is by Julia Christgau, with some music direction by Carolyn Violi.

The cast is Alex Ingram of Birmingham as Alice; Elizabeth Forman of St. Petersburg, Florida, as Susan; Peyton Overstreet of Tallahassee, Florida, as Betty; Kenya Stewart of Huntsville as Joan; Jenn Palmieri of Alpharetta, Georgia, as Ellen; Marissa Hebson of Pinson as Margery; Chance Novalis of Madison as Jack; Nadia Harden of Madison as Goody; and Russell Alexander of Montgomery as Man/Doctor/Parker.

The band is Alicia Batterson of Columbus, Ohio; Joseph Baude of Atlanta, Georgia; Seth Burgess of Gardendale; Clara Holmes of Flint, Michigan; and Kayli Porter of Bessemer.

The crew includes Olivia Skillern, scene designer, of Madison; Elliot Johnson, lighting designer, of Minneapolis, Minnesota; Rachel Walsh, stage manager, of Johns Creek, Georgia; Mary Ashley Dease, assistant stage manager, of Vestavia Hills; Addie Counts, assistant stage manager, of Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Taylor Dole, assistant director, of Birmingham.

  • November 9