Review: Legacy of the Hanging Judge, Salem MA (5 stars)

Last year, the team from Events INSIDER went on a 10-day Halloween blitz! In October 2013, I visited 28 attractions to bring you reviews and information on everything Halloween in New England. We went indoors and outdoors as far north as New Hampshire, as far south as Rhode Island, and as far west as Connecticut. Don’t forget to visit, where we list more creative October events than anyplace else!

The Legacy of the Hanging Judge is more than just a performance that brings the horrors of the 1692 Salem witch trials to life. It’s also historically accurate and takes place in a historic home, The House of the Seven Gables, where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived. You’ll recall him from high school as one of America’s most important old timey authors. Rather than sit you down in a large venue, with the actors placed on stage, your group of sixteen people are led into a small entranceway for an intimate and up close performance from a single actor. Five minutes later, you are led into the next small room to meet another actor, and so on through all the rooms of the house. (Meanwhile, behind you, another group is being led into the room you just left, to maximize how many can see the show.)

What a show! Through practice going back at least a decade, this performance has found the perfect balance. You learn a lot but not so much that it overwhelms you. (After all, you are standing up for the entire show and people get tired. Even the brainiest of us only want so much history.) Rather than get flooded with names and dates, you learn a lot about the motivations of the people — and their regrets afterwards. We even get to meet Nathaniel Hawthorne, who well than a century after his ancestor was a judge at the trials feels a family guilt. Quotes on the walls give us a sound bite of Hawthorne as well and we get to meet the spooky girls whose accusations began the whole thing. Apparently much of the witch hysteria came from old feuds between people. Hey, which of us doesn’t have an old romantic partner or boss we might be tempted to throw under the bus if it was witch-burning time? Well, we’d like to think that we wouldn’t of course, but in those few times in the United States that a riot breaks out, plenty of people go a-stealing. And we love to gossip about Obama being “muslim” and hate celebrities online with our anonymous and rude comments. Maybe as modern people we have more in common with those in the past that we think.

As if that weren’t enough, this is no show of amateurs. Accomplished actors bring us into their world, making us laugh or be startled in fright. One tiny flaw might be that they don’t show the causes of the accusations as well as Cry Innocent did. Legacy of the Hanging Judge is perfect theatre: arty, unique, creative in all dimensions. If you see only one thing in Salem, it should be this.

This review was from Events INSIDER’s 2013 10-day Halloween blitz, where we visited 28 attractions across New England. Visit, where you’ll find more fun Halloween and October events than anywhere else!