Friday, September 09, 2011
Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" at the Hartford Stage Company timely classic
HARTFORD — Paranoia, mob rule, and the law mixed with religious hysteria in a perfect storm of tragedy in Arthur Miller’s unnerving and brilliant play “The Crucible,” playing at the Hartford Stage Company through Sept. 25.
From the first moment, firmly and deftly directed by Long Wharf Theatre Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein, you are jolted into strangely familiar world that doesn’t let up in its inevitable conclusion.
Set in the 1600s, teenage girls, one who is the ringleader, dance in the woods naked and flirt with witchcraft. Realizing that the jig is up when they are discovered, they start accusing others for their improper behavior.
Abigail Williams, played by a fine Rachel Mewbron, is the conniving girl who had an affair with her former employer, John Proctor, a powerful and believable Michael Laurence. Abigail wants to replace his wife, Elizabeth, and is doing all she can to make that happen.
Revelations of truth mixed with fanciful imaginings of seeing people fly create a crazy atmosphere that culminates in at least 400 people, mostly women, in Salem, Mass. being accused of witchcraft and consorting with the devil. But they can all be free if they only admit their guilt and confess.
It seems like stuff of the past, but the essence of the societal insanity isn’t antiquated.
In fact, history is doomed to repeat itself, and mass hysteria in this crazy world constantly repeats itself over generations.
The McCarthy era of hysterical anti-communism, institutionalized slavery, ethnic cleansing, and the internment of the Japanese are only a few examples of government sanctioned insanity. But honestly and horrifically the list goes on and on.
Some of the characters in this sizable cast are dressed in dark 17th Century garb and frontier frocks, but others, such as the farmers, are wearing overalls and flannel, which actually works quite well, with costumes by Ilona Somogyi.
This unbelievable witch-hunt spun out of control is so potent because it really happened not only in Salem, Mass. but also in Connecticut.
In the display room adjacent to the Hartford Stage Company’s lobby, we learn that people were hung in this state on claims of witchcraft in the 1600s. The display is a fitting compendium to the play, so arrive early and read the actual commentary of the time.
What makes the characters so compelling and intriguing is that the bad guys aren’t all bad and the good guys have their flaws.
Tom Beckett is the Rev. Samuel Parris, who starts out as the self-interested and smarmy minister whose daughter won’t wake up after he discovers her and the girls dancing in the woods. He never becomes likeable, but does become slightly less odious and more human.
David Barlow is the Reverend Hale, who starts out wanting only facts, and then believes every fairytale he hears as gospel truth, as do most of the others. Anyone who disagrees is suspect. Only later does he see the horror of his own creation, but is powerless to stop it.
Sam Tsoutsouvas is the Deputy Governor Danforth, the ultimate authority at the height of male privilege, who knows the law but bullies the uneducated with his knowledge, and also gets swept up in the machinery of bureaucracy.
When Hale and others plead for clemency for people condemned to hang, Danforth says that he can’t stop now because others have already hung for the same crime.
Keira Keeley is convincing as Mary Warren, the teenager who is caught between wanting to tell the truth and being swept up in the mass hysteria.
Kate Forbes plays Elizabeth with complexity and understandable fear in the face of horror and an insane world.
There are brief moments of humor too, that help relieve the relentless horror of a world that has spun out of control.
My one complaint is the written statement on the backdrop in the second act that reads something like, “You are either with us, or with the terrorists.”
That kind of blatant statement of the obvious is unnecessary, overkill, and an insult to the intelligence of the audience.
Still, this is an important, disturbing, and moving morality tale that exposes the worst along with the best of what we can be.
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church St., Hartford.
Production: Written by Arthur Miller. Directed by Gordon Edelstein. Scenic design by Eugene Lee. Costume design by Ilona Somogyi. Lighting design by Michael Chybowski. Original music and sound design by John Gromada. Fight choreography by Craig Handel. Choreography by Sharon Jenkins.
Running time: 3 hours including one intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinee performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. through Oct. 6.
Tickets: $23- $69. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at hartfordstage.org.
ACTOR … CHARACTER
Michael Laurence … John Proctor
Kate Forbes … Elizabeth Proctor
Sam Tsoutsouvas … Deputy Gov. Danforth
David Barlow … Rev. Hale
Tom Beckett … Rev. Samuel Parris
Keira Keeley … Mary Warren
Rachel Mewbron … Abigail Williams
Annette Hunt … Rebecca Nurse
Ron Crawford … Giles Corey
Rebecka Jones … Ann Putnam, Sarah Good
Richmond Hoxie … Thomas Putnam
Photo: Michael Laurence and Kate Forbes as John and Elizabeth Proctor in "The Crucible." photo by T. Charles Erickson.