The Stone Witch by HUMANITAS Trustee Shem Bitterman Explores the Theme of Art vs. Sanity
“Extraordinary art must be tamed.”
Dan Lauria is Simon Grindberg, a brilliantly famous and reclusive children’s book writer and illustrator, who becomes so immersed in his creations he cannot tell fantasy from reality. Or is it that he has some form of mental illness which has hindered the creative process? These are the questions in Shem Bitterman’s The Stone Witch, now playing at the Westside Arts, directed by Steve Zuckerman.
Fed up Clair Forlorni (Carolyn McCormick) needs help with her star writer, Simon Grindberg. She has been waiting 12 years for his newest book. Enter a starving, younger version of Simon, Peter Chandler (Rupak Ginn), who Clair goads into going to Simon’s cabin in the woods. If Peter can get the 80-year-old Simon to finally deliver that long over-due book, he will make $10,000, but without any credit for his collaboration.
Simon is cantankerous, toying with Peter and yet at the same time, trying to impart what it takes to be him. He warns Peter that Clair is “a barracuda in Armani.” We are never quite sure if Simon is a genius who has pushed himself to the edge, or if he is just losing it. Or is it that Simon is just lonely, trapped by the prison of fame and the burden of greatness?
Peter has been working on his own book called “The Stone Witch.” Eventually, Simon accepts Peter’s help and takes over the book. Then “The Stone Witch” appears and begins to haunt Peter. Simon matures from being a fan to an artist and the dynamics take a dramatic turn.
Lauria is complex, alluring, and gives a heartfelt performance. Ginn has charisma and is the perfect foil. McCormick is that editor with a heart of gold underneath all those fangs and claws. She has fabulous biting comedic talent.
The star of this piece is scenic designer and projection art content designer Yael Pardess – collaborating with projection designer, Brad Peterson – who have created these large cutouts of illustrated creatures that adorn Simon’s cabin, which are utterly adorable. Roger Bellon’s music is moving and lovely to listen to. Betsy Adams’ lighting creates the perfect mood.
Steve Zuckerman directs this piece like a TV movie of the week and that is partly how Mr. Bitterman writes this piece. At times, The Stone Witch drags under the weight of its many themes Bitterman is throwing out into the audience. I found that I had more questions than answers in the end, though found the play enjoyable.
In the end, we are all haunted by our inner working and must learn to control them.
The Stone Witch: The Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd St.