by Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant.
When smarmy Reverend Parris (Jason Michael Swauger) discovers an unnatural celebration in the forest, all hell (figuratively and literally) breaks loose in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”
Island woman Tituba (Linda Haston) and a circle of female friends, including Abigail Williams (Adrianne Knapp), Betty Parris (Grace Vensel) and Mary Warren (Maighread Southard-Wray) are suspected of conjuring evil spirits, putting them in league with the devil. No one knows what really occurred in the woods on that fateful night, but town officials are determined to get to the bottom of it.
To save herself, Tituba concocts an elaborate story about colluding with the devil. She begs for mercy and comes to salvation. Reverend Parris and the visiting Reverend Hale (George Saulnier) are satisfied with her confession, but Abigail learns from her. She decides to conspire against her enemies by also coming to God and accusing others of witchcraft. One lone voice of reason, John Proctor (Jason Spider Matthews), isn’t having any of her hogwash.
Accusations fly and the Salem Witch Trails begin. Thomas Putnam (Parag S. Gohel) learns how to profit from the proceedings, grabbing up land of from his hanged neighbors. Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth (Joanna Lowe), remain strong. Because they can see through the insidious plans of the other townspeople, it’s not long before they stand accused.
As the trials play out, a Pandora’s Box full of secrets spill out. Miraculously, some secrets are even pushed back in, denied as the truth or ignored.
“The Crucible” is Arthur Miller’s treatise on the McCarthy Communism trials which befell the nation as the play was first published. The story is about how unfettered accusations can bring down a people, a nation and, probably, a planet. With the NSA and a multitude of national political debates and a Pennsylvania state government that has been pointing fingers at one another, we don’t seem to have evolved very far. The allegory stands.
However, Miller’s play is more histrionic than historic. There are several shouting matches that seem to go on for far too long. Prime Stage cut almost an hour out of the play and it still seems lengthy.
The play starts with shrieking. The volume starts high and has nowhere to go. Also, the ensemble of girls seems to be excessive. Three or four would do, but there are at least a dozen on the stage, crying, screaming, and shouting. Though in Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff’s new book, “The Witches: Salem 1692,” mentions that the court reporters were unable to hear the actual proceedings due to shouting. One woman even threw an apple at the accused.
This performance is a bit muddled, but there are some stand out performances. Haston’s Tituba is only on stage for a short time, but she makes the most of her brief appearance.
Elizabeth Proctor is a difficult character to play. Her character is the moral center, but she also dishes out plenty of moral indignity. She can come off as a shrill and demanding, but Lowe’s turn as Elizabeth is silky smooth. Her performance is nuanced.
Knapp’s portrayal of Abigail is very well done. You can see her devious, mischievous nature behind her eyes. Southard-Wray’s Mary Warren is another skillful performance that needs to be mentioned.
Sualnier does an admirable job as the Reverend Hale. It takes a while for his character to achieve his arc, but it’s easy to sympathize with him as the truth washes over him like a bitter baptism.
The set is a masterpiece by Jonmichael Bohach. Imagine Superman’s crystalline Fortress of Solitude transformed into wood, with jagged wooden pylons jutting upward toward the heavens. It’s a stark, rustic temple of lumber, with eerie mood lighting from J. R. Shaw.
Though the “The Crucible,” has some faults, it is an important allegory. Philosopher and poet George Santayana once said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Every time we judge another, we are condemning our society. Luckily, Prime Stage is offering several high school matinees of the play. Maybe future generations will finally learn the lesson.
“The Crucible” runs till November 8, 2015 at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, click here.