The Crucible

September 26, 2019

in Plays

Play (1953)
by Arthur Miller

Directed by Eric Tucker

The Nora Theatre Company
in conjunction with Bedlam
Central Square Theater
Central Square, Cambridge, MA
September 12 – October 13, 2019

With Joshua Wolf Coleman (Deputy Governor Danforth), Truett Felt (Abigail Williams), Eliza Rose Fichter (Susanna Walcott, Ann Putnam, Sarah Good), Caroline Grogan (Mary Warren), David Keohane (Thomas Putnam, Judge Hathorne, Marshal Herrick), Susannah Millonzi (Elizabeth Proctor, Betty Parris), Ryan Quinn (John Proctor), Randolph Curtis Rand (Reverend Samuel Parris, Martha Corey), Michael Dwan Singh (Ezekial Cheever), Stewart Evan Smith (Giles Corey), Eric Tucker (Reverend Hale), Dayenne CB Walters (Tituba, Rebecca Nurse, Francis Nurse), Karina Wen (Mercy Lewis)

Susannah Millonzi as Elizabeth Proctor, Ryan Quinn as John Proctor, Caroline Grogran as Mary Warren, Karina Wen as Mercy Lewis in 'The Crucible'

Foreground:
Susannah Millonzi as Elizabeth Proctor
Ryan Quinn as John Proctor
Background:
Caroline Grogran as Mary Warren
Karina Wen as Mercy Lewis
in “The Crucible”
Photo: Nile Scott Studios
Courtesy of Central Square Theater

A passionately unhinged production of the modern classic about the Salem witch hunts of the seventeenth century.

John Proctor (Ryan Quinn) is a decent guy married to a decent woman, Elizabeth Proctor (Susannah Millonzi), but he has been passionately derailed momentarily by young Abigail Williams (Truett Felt). All of a sudden, Abigail is involved in night dances with a bunch of other young girls and talk of witchery makes its way like wildfire around Salem. Accusations and trials follow, and many unsuspecting bystanders like Proctor and his wife get caught up in the madness.

Arthur Miller wrote this play in the middle of the McCarthy Communist witch hunts of the early 1950s and it’s essentially a play about that, a somewhat loosely fitted roman à clef set in seventeenth century New England. The motivating force of the play is thus concerned with how group madness builds, consumes society, and ultimately gets tied up with authority and governance in a way that makes life unbearable.

If that theme sounds more familiar with regard to recent history, one is likely to be not off the mark in expecting that the play was selected for production with current applicability well in mind. It’s somewhat remarkable that this play, so topically inspired, has remained a modern classic, but it has, due to the potent, and eternally recurring applicability. At present, with the current run of lying, rumor-baiting, and loose spreading-wide of angry and suspicious speech having become a daily norm, the warnings of the play are relevant to the utmost.

Bedlam, under Eric Tucker’s direction, has a history of doing productions that are wild and interesting.

Among several memorable ones, one that I found most distinctively realized was the adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility at the American Repertory Theater a couple of years back. That production had an amazing series of rolling screens, chairs and tables that were flung around wonderfully and dynamically throughout. It was very kinetic and lively and made the relatively undecorated set come alive.

At Central Square, Bedlam has, over the years, done Twelfth Night and What You Will in two interestingly contrasted concurrent interpretations of the same play, Shaw’s Pygmalion, and an intense version of Shaw’s St. Joan.

The current production of The Crucible uses a pretty bare stage, but also aggregates the cast within its boundaries in a way that explodes the sense of utilized space.

Beginning in a cramped front enclosed stage area, the opening scene packs the cast as though into a subway car at rush hour, with both the sense of a small New England house with low ceilings, and, as well, a contained, ready-to-explode social atmosphere that brews within it.

As things progress, the cast opens out into the big front area before that enclosure, giving the sense of a society, in a variety of ways, jumping entirely out of its own skin.

Most of the action involves lots of characters milling and frequently lurking around one another, with the addition of a particular Bedlam form of magical mayhem that makes an aggregate of unhinged individuals come together to appear to form a social environment. Consequently, this special and fraught vision of society emerges from Bedlam’s particular way of creating order and havoc within the same dramatic space.

Though I wasn’t quite as seduced by the staging of this production as much as by that of the more adorable, and indeed swishier, Sense and Sensibility, these darker and more chaotic choices for The Crucible, a far more thunderous and tragic narrative, seem to make good sense.

The language of the play is somewhat archaic, as per Miller’s designation, so it’s hard to pull this entirely out of seventeenth century New England, and the production manages, with its combination of rough exterior and considerable dedication to the text, to provide a result which has historical integrity, despite its contemporary application. Yet, with no particular attention to period dress, the setting of this production, in this sense, almost gives the visual impression that the narrative could be set anywhere at anytime.

As John Proctor, Ryan Quinn is particularly noteworthy, rendering a noble appeal while delivering the sense that his momentary passionate indulgence is possible, more a function of temporary moral vulnerability rather than long-term dissolution. As Elizabeth Proctor, his long-suffering wife, Susannah Millonzi also does a creditable job of evoking the polar treacheries in a stoically dramatic way.

Also remarkably good in the smaller role of Mary Warren, the young girl who turns her story around, is Caroline Grogan; she is a vivid actress who fills her portrayal with punctuated and somewhat unexpected gestures that draw one in and give a clear sense of a young girl walking a moral tightrope. As Abigail Williams, the intensely manipulative young lover of John Proctor, Truett Felt conveys both passion and untrustworthiness in an interesting blend that demonstrates her character’s deep internal conflicts.

As the trial judge, Deputy Governor Danforth, Joshua Wolf Coleman is wonderfully and broadly fierce and commandeering. Coleman gives the role a forceful charm, despite the despicable nature of the character himself.

The production runs just over three hours. Its rough and ready staging with an intense population of characters onstage much of the time, and the dark and severe plot, make this indeed a dramatic experience but one not to be taken lightly. Nonetheless, given the current times, with the President, just within the past couple of days becoming the target of an impeachment inquiry, it’s a serious experience worth taking on.

– BADMan

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