Inspired by William Shakespeare’s classic play, The Tempest, Y York’s Sycorax is a powerful monodrama independent of the influencing work, that premiered at 18th & Union last night on Capitol Hill. Directed by Mark Lutwak, an experienced freelance director, Y York’s play wrestles with major themes of revenge and forgiveness while noting how race, gender, and discrimination ultimately impact the fate and representation of the character.
In an unbelievable solo performance, the brilliant Demene E. Hall assumes the titular and only role of the play, offering a version of the character that differs significantly from Shakespeare’s original antagonist. Though presented simply as an evil sorceress in The Tempest, Sycorax undertakes a more nuanced interpretation of the character, utilizing themes of racial and sexual oppression to challenge the audience to redefine their preconceptions of good and evil, lest they be confined to understand history as written by the victor.
Through an apostrophe to the gods, the spirit of Sycorax depicts a horrific world that begins with her abandonment at birth. Her white mother is ashamed of her daughter’s skin color and decides to desert the only evidence of her affair with her dark-skinned lover. Unfortunately, this will not be the only time Sycorax is betrayed by a mother-figure. When she later endures repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her white oppressors, both men and women are quick to blame the sexual promiscuity on Sycorax because of her race, believing her to be a witch of sorts.
Though determined to avoid her birth mother’s mistake, Sycorax falls prey to the same cycle. She finds herself pregnant aboard a ship, much to the chagrin of the white sailors. As a result, they abandon her on the island where she births and raises her son Caliban. The ghost of Sycorax explains her death on the island and Prospero’s arrival with his daughter Miranda, but damned to wander the island as a watchful spirit, Sycorax is unable to intervene in Prospero’s mistreatment of her son. The play builds to a terrific and captivating conclusion as Sycorax relates the tale of Caliban and Miranda, and wonders herself what her life might have been like, had she ever been loved.
I was thrilled to see such stellar costume and set design. Hall’s eyes are accentuated with face paint to give her a skeletal look while the colors and tattered appearance of her costume add extra authenticity to an already-loaded performance. The minimalist set design — a single log of driftwood — keeps the audience focused on the brightly lit action, exposing Hall in the similar vein of Sycorax baring her soul to the gods.
Whether a fan of Shakespeare’s The Tempest or not, Sycorax is a powerful standalone adaption that’s told from an unsuspecting point of view and reminds us that everybody is deserving of love.
Sycorax, written by Y York and produced by Snowflake Avalanche and 18th & Union. Showing at 18th & Union Theatre, 1406 18th Ave. Seattle, WA 98122. Located on Capitol Hill at the corner of 18th Ave. and Union St. Oct 6th to Oct 9th @ 7:30pm and Oct 12th to Oct 14th @ 7:30pm. Tickets https://18thandunion.org/sycorax or call the 18th & Union Theatre Box Office at 206.937.6499. Info at 18thandunion.org.