"The Witches" -- based on a book by Roald Dahl of "Willy Wonka" fame -- has many of the elements of a typical fairy tale, but, surprisingly, lacks what we might think of as the typical fairy tale ending. The bad guys are overthrown, but the results of their evil are not entirely washed away. It's as if Dahl is suggesting there's a certain amount of depravity that even innocent children have to learn to live with.
Rainbow Company's production is a tad somber, properly so, perhaps to prepare us for the not-all-is-roses climax.
A boy (the likable Conrad Kauffman) loses his parents in a car accident and is sent to live with his kindly grandmother (Jackie Shick) in Norway. When Grandma falls ill, they go for a rest at a seaside English hotel.
Wouldn't you know it, though, at the very same time, a group of witches is holding their convention there -- under the group name "The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children." (They especially detest children.) The sorceresses look like normal middle-aged ladies, but as Grandma points out, they're all bald underneath their wigs, wear gloves to hide their claws, and socks to mask their lack of toes. It isn't long before the boy and his obnoxious friend Bruno (Sam Blomquist) tangle with these demons and become victims of their spells.
Director Toni Molloy-Tudor keeps the proceedings fun, yet there's a wistful folk-tale quality to the show that has us looking beyond the plot for some additional meaning.
Mary Alice Brunod-Burack, dressed all in purple, is a delightfully nasty Grand High Witch. Blomquist makes for an amusing spoiled brat who would sell his soul (not to mention his life) for a chocolate bar. And Jose Anthony and Delancey Prince do a show-stopping comic bit about two eccentric French-accented chefs trying to prepare dinner during an invasion of mice.
Kris Van Riper's set isn't as surprising as one ordinarily expects. And the bald masks used on the witches are not up to Rainbow standards. The multiple wrinkles betray them, and some don't even cover the hair they're supposed to be hiding.
J Neal's sound effects, though, contribute more than a normal share to the ambience, and the 29-member cast keeps providing unexpected pleasure.
I keep wondering about that semi-downbeat ending, though. I wish I knew why it was there and what a typical child would make of it.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.