The Sugar Witch

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Through April 11. $20-$40; 861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org.
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Oak), S.F.

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Set in the tangle of a haunted Florida swamp in the late 1920s, The Sugar Witch has all the trappings of a Southern Gothic melodrama, or better yet, a Southern version of a Martin McDonagh play. In addition to mentions of flying cats, reptile women, and an ancient curse, there are two guys trying to have a romance, a fat woman killing palmetto bugs, a shotgun-wielding blonde, and, of course, a resident witch. Nathan Sanders' moody script does an admirable job tying these elements into a rich story about family secrets, murder, and attempting to break from sins of the past. The problem is that this production fails to commit wholeheartedly to the genre — something it needs to do twofold in order for an audience to believe this supernatural soap opera. Scenic designer Kuo-Hao Lo has created a gorgeously creepy set that looks as if it's sinking into the swamp's mysteries, but his terrific stage design is undermined by some of the acting and directing. While some actors are seriously grounded in this world, others appear to be camping it up. This discrepancy keeps Saunders' eerie play from truly spooking.

 
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