‘Afflicted: Daughters of Salem’ is an ode to girlhood through the lens of history

Design by Erin Cunningham

This article was written collaboratively by Emily Gordon, culture reporter, and Hanalei Potempa, culture editor.

Boise State University’s Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing presented “Afflicted: Daughters of Salem,” a play illustrating the untold story of the victims of the infamous Salem witch trials. 

“Afflicted: Daughters of Salem,” originally written by Laurie Brooks in 2014, tells the story of Abigail Williams (Kyra Barber-Ash), Ann Putnam (Stephanie Kaschmitter), Mercy Lewis (Anna Bradburn), Mary Warren (Jasmine Reese) and Betty Parris (Ella Berry), five of the many girls who were accused of witchcraft in Salem in the 1690s.

The story takes place in Puritan New England, Salem Village in 1691, following the five girls and their friend Tituba (Rachel Fichtman) as they spend each night vowing loyalty to their “sisterhood.”

The girls sneak out, meeting in the woods every night to escape their mundane lives, often gossiping, discussing their faith and other people in their village, as well as telling stories around the fire. 

The play tells a story of girlhood and female friendships, often paralleling the experiences of girls today.

“I wish I had been born a boy,” Ann said. “Then I would have value.”

[Promotional poster for “Afflicted: Daughters of Salem.”
Design by Erin Cunningham

It is nearly impossible to watch the performance of these actresses without feeling the same pain and confusion these teenage girls experienced at the hands of the adults surrounding them.

Emily Oquist, a theater arts senior at Boise State and the stage manager for the play, explained how much work goes unseen during the performance, and shared that this play was actually her last Boise State performance.

“It takes a lot of people to create,” Oquist said. “It’s bittersweet to see it end.”

Many departments collaborated to create this immersive experience, and the passion poured into this play can be felt by all who watched.

While the story is set 332 years ago, the themes of sisterhood and yearning to be understood can be easily relatable for the audience. The actresses’ performances truly immerse the audience into the lives of girls of the time period, which isn’t too different from how girls act today.

Although the play tells the tragic story of the death of innocent young girls during the Salem witch trials, the story is scattered with occasional laughs and lighthearted moments.

The play is interactive with the audience, who acts as the jury during the trial that decides which girls are guilty of witching.

The audience was surprised and looked to one another as everyone raised their hands to vote on which girls were innocent and which girls were guilty.

Shockingly, the outcome and the overall ending of the play was decided by the audience, which although untraditional, led to a truly fun and exciting viewing experience.

In the final moments of the play, Tituba turns to the audience and shares that the diaries these girls kept, which contained their true desires and fears, were destroyed shortly after the trials, adding another element of grief to the audience.

The performance concludes with an impactful statement as 25 nooses are suddenly released towards the end of the play, to memorialize the innocent lives taken during the witch trials.

Overall, this play did a wonderful job at depicting the basis of girlhood. The nature of girls — a yearning for sisterhood and to be understood — has been consistent throughout history. It was a truly heartwarming experience to observe these parallels through a lens of theater.

The student actors truly brought the story to life, playing overwhelmingly relatable characters that the audience will feel a strong connection to and immense empathy for.

The unfair treatment of girls compared to the boys, a craving to expand their education, and finding solace within sisterly friendships are still prevalent today in modern girls.

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