Something Wicked This Way Comes

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The Dust Witch, played by Jillian Petrie, is one of the show's creepiest and best-acted characters.

The Dust Witch, played by Jillian Petrie, is one of the show's creepiest and best-acted characters.

Ray Bradbury’s Halloween classic comes to town

In taking on the project of directing a stage production of Ray Bradbury’s ultimate Halloween novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, D. Terry Petrie faced a challenge which the UVU Theater department does not always take on. How to create a play for which the audience has no expectation and the cast and crew no precedent? Romeo and Juliet, Farley Family X-mas and Charlotte’s Web are all well-known stories where the viewer’s notions and expectations for the play are practically scenery. But not the little-read Something Wicked This Way Comes, which has previously only been performed once in the United States.

While few members of the audience, cast and crew had previously read the book, it is even more unlikely that they would have seen either of the abysmal film adaptations of Bradbury’s eerie, haunting and seasonally appropriate coming-of-age story about two boys and an aging father who discover the sinister truth about a mysterious carnival that has rolled into town and its menacing leader, Mr. Dark (Wes Tolman). The latter fact turned out to be of tremendous benefit to the production, allowing for a cohesive, distinct and, well, very cool look. It was certainly not a hinderance for the actors either.

“I really loved the script when I first read it. … I didn’t know what to expect and I just loved all of the parts where it was really theatrical and very visual and scenes that were dramatic as well,” said Topher Rasmussen, who played William Halloway.

The story is complex and requires an ambitious director. But Petrie was just the man for the job.

“Terry came up with a strong concept and having that concept allowed us to deal with some of the staging challenges the script presented,” says Alex Ungerman, a theatre major and assistant director. The Discovery Park playground in Lindon served as the inspiration for the set, which was a remarkably flexible canvas for the onstage action.

Petrie’s creativity as a director extended to an astounding dream sequence in which one of the boys, Jim Nightshade (Chris Vest), is captured by the carnival freaks, which was not included in the original script. This scene proves that the power of theatre lies not only in words, but in the expressiveness of the human body.

In addition to having a visually intriguing and oft-changing setting, the sound effects and lighting, while not generally intrusive, effectively set and maintain the mood for the story. The sound itself becomes an additional character. While at times somewhat overbearing, overall the music and sounds (most of which are created live every night) add more than they detract.

Set in a time during which most of us were not yet alive, the play is still successful in evoking a nostalgia for a past that simultaneously yours and not yours. It reminds of the wide-eyed exuberance of childhood that has been the the belonging of every  audience member, but set in a world you would see in dreams.

Standout performances include Wes Tolman as Mr. Dark, Jyllian Petrie as the Dust Witch and Heather Housley as Miss Foley, with Anne Marie Jensen acting as her younger counterpart. With characters who almost instantly change ages throughout the show, the actors had to coordinate their looks, voices and movements.

“We had a lot of student designers and department heads and crew members that have really worked hard as a tream and have helped create this sort of visually wonderful thing that you saw,” said Petrie. “We have to give a lot of credit to the students.”