High School Coven (Occupy the Stage 22, online)

The National Women’s Theater Festival presents Occupy The Stage 22, a livestream festival of new plays mixed in with encore readings of fan favorites from previous years.

The Occupy the Stage Festival, now in its sixth year, continues to deliver interesting work in High School Coven, a play by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin.

Set in a school where supernatural goings-on set to impact on the annual student elections, it focuses on a quartet of girls who bond as they seek out a familiar (cat, toad) at the pet shop.

Quickly, though, it becomes clear that the corridors of power hold a dark secret; one which the Principal of the school is quite happy to ignore as she scolds the girls for uniform infractions.

Money and power are the drivers which keep the school running smoothly, whatever the cost to those in its care. I found myself thinking about the recent case of the student accused of sexual assault who was defended because of his future potential.

Here in High School Coven, boys with rich parents are protected and girls are victim-shamed by how much they drank, what they wore, and how friendly they were.

Poster image for High School Coven

Scenes which seem superfluous at first gain a more disturbing meaning as the play progresses, and the four girls find they have no choice but to take drastic action to make things right.

This is a play which grips from the first scene, as we find ourselves deep into the setting of female friendships, shared experience, and the expectation to accept the status quo.

Heather Ondersma directs this piece, which isn’t definitively delineated into acts and scenes; it benefits from a looser structure. An all-female cast excel in a piece which tackles tricky themes head-on: Dana Hall is very good as the Principal who is doomed to be ineffective by her own priorities; Darby Kolwyck is effective as Rachel, whose t-shirts and short skirts fall foul of the student handbook; Ember Tate is compelling as Trina, who is brave enough to tackle assault head on.

Aubrey Clyburn, Catherine Harkey, and Mel MacQuarrie also feature in this provocative piece of drama that pulls in the conflict of physically becoming a woman and looks at the bonds of sisterhood. You make your own decisions on what is right and just at the end of this one.

You can buy tickets for the Occupy the Stage Festival with a range of pricing options here. Each day’s collection of shows remains available for 96 hours after their premiere, and each show gets two streams.