Witches in Salem: Interview with Playwright Matt Cox

Meagan J. Meehan
5 min readMar 28, 2024

“Witches!? In Salem?!” is a new Off-Broadway play by writer Matt Cox that was inspired by the Salem Witch Trials despite being a comedy. Premiering at the HERE Arts Center (145 Sixth Ave, New York, NY 10013), it will run through March 30th, 2024. The play takes place in Salem Village in 1692 where a group of villagers try to make sense of the hysteria that has gripped the area.

Matt Cox recently discussed this play and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in theater?

Matt Cox (MC): I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh. My senior year of high school I went to audition for an improv team and at the same time they were auditioning for the first play of the year (You Can’t Take It With You.) I figured, why not? I ended up with a very fun role and not too long after began shifting my plans for what comes next in life. Eventually acting found its way to writing, and here I am.

MM: How did you come up with the idea for “Witches!? In Salem?!” and how much historical research did it use?

MC: The idea for Witches!? In Salem?! originated around 2015 or 2016. I saw a production of that-certain-other-Salem-Witch-Play-Everyone-Was-In which seemed to imply there was maybe some real magic going on. This sparked an idea of two real stereotypical ‘magic users’ being around during this event who were never blamed. For several years the play focused on them — their relationships with the people who died, how they avoided being blamed, etc. It was purposefully ignorant of the actual history. However, eventually I figured I should do some research and found myself fascinated by the actual events and was surprised to learn about so much I’d never even heard of. I ended up spending a few years with the play on the back burner, reading as much as I could when I could. My particular favorite book on the subject, and most influential to the play, was ‘A Delusion of Satan’ by Frances Hill. Eventually the show morphed into a far more ‘historically accurate’ telling of the history — with all the comedy and horror coming from real and ridiculous moments which actually occurred.

MM: What most surprised and/or interested you over the course of this research?

MC: From a modern standpoint, what I found so interesting was when all the events and motivations are laid out in sequential order — how obvious it seems that the trials were a series of machinations from various people in power who enabled more and more people to join in — all hoping to gain something from it. A ball rolling down a hill, picking up various people along the way until it is too big for anyone to stop it. And the relevancy of it all. One can draw a straight line from so many aspects of what happened to modern day, and we’re repeating these same things over and over. Which is, of course, why I think this bit of history is revisited so often. My favorite anecdote I read about was a story of a woman in a distant town who was accused. Her husband, a rich and powerful man, decided they’d be having none of that, and so he brought her TO Salem to confront the girls. Reverend John Hale told them to meet him at a nearby meeting place, at which point the girls burst in having fits and pointing at his wife, who was promptly arrested. Much like the play, the story is funny, horrific, and sad.

MM: Was it tough to turn this history into a comedy?

MC: Yes, and no! It is always fairly easy to mine comedy out of ‘what people believed in the past’ just as from a modern standpoint, there is always much to laugh about. The difficulty with Witches!? was finding the line between when it stops being funny and becomes quite real. When all these silly little ideas and character’s ridiculous obsessions become the cause of so many deaths. I’ve worked on the play for a long time — and it’s gone through so many iterations. It was a revelation in the last two years to focus the story of the play primarily on the perpetrators of the event which freed up the ‘comedy’ of it all. We’re watching bad people want very specific things and they’ll do anything to get it. All the people caught up in it then become tragic characters, who I try to make you fall in love with because you enjoy spending time with them. You laugh with them. You laugh at them. And eventually — they are gone — because someone wants more firewood.

MM: What is your favorite part of the play and why?

MC: I think it may be too soon to say, but the way audiences react to the last five minutes or so are a real treat. What happens there I won’t spoil — but it is quite fun and quite surprising.

MM: What memorable feedback have you gotten about this show?

MC: Due to working on the play for so long, I had hit a point (as one does) where I no longer believed the comedy of the show was working. The greatest bit of feedback has been the consistent laughs from the audience, in all the places I had always hoped they would. People seem to be enjoying it! There is also a character named Jenny Anne, a modern eighth grader who got way too into her classes lesson plan on The Crucible, which guides us through some of the real history of the show. That I’ve had a handful of people come up and say they were absolutely that kid — and can’t wait to go home and go down a Wikipedia hole about all of this means something has gone right.

MM: How do you hope your career continues to evolve from here?

MC: I hope to continue to have audiences who trust that coming to one of my play’s will be a night worth leaving home and going to see a show. (And I hope to have many more things coming in the near future!) It’s been so nice to see Puffs shirts out in the crowd every night — that people sought out Witches!? after enjoying that show is so great, and that they seem to enjoy it is even better. (As they are quite different!) Ultimately, I guess I want to keep making people laugh and feel surprising things after they laugh.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

MC: I’ve got two musicals in the works coming soon. One is a musical about ferret competitions, and the other is currently unannounced but should be a fun time. I’m hoping those find their way to the stage soon! Beyond that, I’ve had a backlog of projects I’d been working on simultaneously with Witches!? that people should be hearing about soon!

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WITCHES!? IN SALEM?! runs through March 30 at HERE Arts Center (145 Sixth Ave, New York, NY 10013). Tickets and more information are available at www.witchesinsalem.com.

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Meagan J. Meehan

Meagan J. Meehan is a published author of novels, short stories, and poems. She is also a produced playwright and an award-winning modern artist.