Once again, the Jet City Improv troupe has created something out of nothing with hilarious and surprisingly thought-provoking results with “Blak Cloud.” Each show is loosely based on the Salem witch trials of 1692, where someone will be burned at the stake each night. Who that person is, is up to you.
Unlike the group’s last full-length performance of “Men of Action,” “Blak Cloud” is not suitable for everyone. It’s still pretty tame as there is no swearing, sex or violence, but given the subject matter, the stories tend to go to the southern end of the family-friendly spectrum.
“Blak Cloud” is a completely un-scripted program where every line is made up on the spot and every show is different from the last. However, the show does feature the same main character (played by a different actor every night) and the basic storyline. From there, it’s up to the audience and actors on how each show will end up.
The Halloween-themed show is set in the fall of 1692 following the life, trial and judgment of Sarah Good, a Puritan woman taken to court on charges of witchcraft. The show opens up with audience members hurtling accusations about Good (in the case of the opening night show, she was accused of making one woman barren and turned another into a knute.) From there, the ensemble cast presents the story on how they all got to this judgment. Each audience member is given a white and a black rock to be used as a voting procedure to declare Sarah guilty or innocent.
While the show is completely made up, it features a very strong beginning, middle and end. On opening night, the comedy was silly and complex, and yet, the cast un-intentionally presented a profound message. In this version of the story, it was insinuated that all the characters were puritan in nature and strictly followed the rules of the church, but not necessarily the Bible. Although Sarah is the only character to be completely innocent, she is accused of horrible things. Most, if not all of the others, point their fingers to the sins of others while ignoring the actions of their own. In one scene, one character accuses the other of gossip. She replies back, “It’s not gossip. It’s pre-prayer.” Many a Christian can relate to this type of reasoning of some church members in our modern churches of today. It’s a fine line between sharing a prayer request and sharing a gossip story. It would have been easy for the performers to create an anti-Christian message and paint all Christians as lying bigots. As it was, the show eerily resembled the real-life antics of today’s Westboro “Baptist” Church members. Thankfully, (and smartly) they did not.
Every performance will feature a new tale of superstition, betrayal, and mob rule as the characters surrounding Sarah weave together the stories behind the accusations, complete with secret motives and tragic downfalls leading up to the final verdict. “I wanted to make a show that gave the audience uncomfortable choices,” says creator and director Graham Downing, who pulled inspiration from both Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and ironically from the black magic psych rock of the band Coven. "How far they want to go, how deep they wish to accuse, is up to them. Even in the comfort of theatre are they willing to succumb to our insanities just to fit in?”
For the first show, the cast was shocked that the audience voted for a “not guilty” verdict for Sarah, requiring the cast to pick someone else to burn at the stake (on a very cool looking set piece I might add). Downing expected that every audience would automatically vote guilty. This might has happened if this night’s “Sarah” was played differently. As it was, Elicia Wickstead gave a surprisingly sympathetic performance that caused many white rocks to be turned in instead of black. She was by far, the show’s strongest performer. Other stand outs included Molly Arkin as a two-faced tattletale and Phill Arensberg as the town’s priest and judge.
“Blak Cloud” plays Thursdays and Fridays, at 8:00 p.m. until October 18th and then is up and running again from October 31 to November 22. The theatre is located at 5510 University Way in Seattle. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for students/seniors/military, plus discounts can sometimes be found on their website. Parking can be chore, but there is free parking to be had, so be sure to come early. Unlike traditional theatre spaces, audiences can eat and drink in the theater. It even has a bar in the back.