The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. Directed by Sue Frost and Val Kavanaugh. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Watched by John Willard (Sean Owens) and three of her friends, Abigail Williams (Abbi Roy) prepares to testify; photo: supplied by Kathy Verenini
"The pure in heart need no lawyers."
Back in 1953 when Arthur Miller wrote this play about the Salem Witch Trials Americans were, for the first time, faced with a television blitz about the US government and its shortcomings. The McCarthy vs. The Army hearings were blazing through the consciousness of the kingdom, much as the Trump White House dominates our time and attention today. Written as an allegorical take on McCarthyism, the play won the Tony but didn't initially succeed until it was revived the following season with many structural changes. The four act edition, with one scene added, serves as the source for the current production at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts by the Circle Theatre Players. Now seen in two acts, with a total of five scenes, the play follows the misfortunes of one couple, John and Elizabeth Proctor, and many of their friends when a jealous girl begins accusing people of witchcraft, aided and abetted by her girl friends in town. Originally played by Kevin McCarthy and Beatrice Straight, the Proctors have also been played by George C. Scott and his wife Colleen Dewhurst, Yves Montand and his wife Simone Signoret, and Liam Neeson and Laura Linney.
The nearly three hour play has been given an intense and forceful production by the Circle Theater Players with strong casting, excellent direction and a well-wrought non-professional technical team. To begin with the Proctors and their principal accuser are played with great strength and believability by Knathan MacKenzie-Roy and Sara Paupini, and Abbi Roy as Abigail. A former house servant, Abigail has a permanent yen for John Proctor, a sexual itch he has indulged just once and regretted ever since. When witchcraft enters the local picture after Abigail and her friends are caught dancing in the woods at night under the guidance of a Barbados Black, Tituba, Abbie uses this as a cover for revenge against the man who won't leave his wife for her. The original Abigail was actress Madeleine Sherwood who would play mothers and mistresses in the next several years in new plays by Tennessee Williams.
The trio in this production bring an enormous sense of honesty to their roles. This trait is shared by almost the entire company who allow us the privilege of being flies on a wall, overhearing and watching over what transpires.MacKenzie-Roy is especially moving in his scenes, particularly in the trial scene and the jail scenes that end the play. In all honesty he never has an untruthful moment and in his first scene with his wife Elizabeth, he and Sara Paulini bring quiet humility into play with enormous results. There becomes a real sense of relationship as they bicker about his "lust" and about his religious faith. She is brilliant and he lights up the stage.
In the first scene we meet the Putnams. She is a frustrated woman who has lost seven children only to see her surviving daughter brought low by "the devil." Debra Bercier is intense and realistic and wonderfully intimidating in the role, which I adored. Her husband, played mercilessly by John Cody, is a greedy man who is willing to sacrifice his neighbors and friends to the witch-hunt just to acquire more property. Cody is terrific at expressing dishonest sincerity.
Abbi Roy plays Abigail with an innocent air, most of the time, becoming the sensual night creature when she must. Her sweetness and her betrayal of faith help to keep the play alive as she manipulates the men of the court through her reinforced innocence. Roy makes this all quite believable. Siobhan Shea as her minion, Mary Warren, is perfect in her role. In fact, all of the girls are quite convincing.
Among the finest of all performances is the interpretation of Goody Nurse, played to emotionally challenging perfection by Barbara Leavell Smithy. She is almost too good, leaving the distinct impression of actually being Rebecca Nurse and not an actress playing her.
The men who work at condemning hundreds of innocent souls to death or imprisonment are played by some remarkable actors, not the least of whom is Patrick Quinn as Deputy=Governore Danforth. He translates authority brilliantly, aided by some remarkable actors including Ryan Palmer as Reverend Hale, Dennis Skiba as Reverend Parris and Jim Holmes as Judge Hathorne. (If that name sounds familiar think of his descendant Nathaniel Hawthorne [with the added "w"] who used the man as his model for the minister in "The Scarlet Letter."
Other townspeople who made a deep impression on the stage in Sand Lake include John Trainor whose impassioned Giles Corey was wonderful and Joe Albert as Francis Nurse whose aged fragility does as much to land him in jail as Corey's bluster does for him.
The large cast has been directed by Val Kavanaugh and Sue Frost on an excellent set they designed with Charlie Kavanaugh. The moody lighting was provided by Barry Streifert whose sound design work highlighted the beautiful intoning voice of Katrina Wilkinson who played a moving Tituba. Carol Karpien and Lois Staugaitis designed the costumes and the wonderful makeup and hair work by Stacy Schafer made the final scene especially intense.
This is a long play with a lot to say about our world today, about the abuse of power and the seemingly endless belief that one set of rules cannot apply to everyone. It is a play that will touch your mind as well as your heart, a play that seems as modern today as it did in 1953 dealing as it does with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the late 1600s. Only a genius could write a play about incidents so long ago and make them seem so perfectly relevant to our own time. Miller was that genius. The play in this production is one of the best things you could treat yourself to in the first week of spring when hopes begin to soar in spite of everything we see, read and hear.
Goody Putnam (Debra Bercier) and Thomas Putnam (John Cody); photo: supplied by Kathy Verenini
Knathan MacKenzie-Roy; photo: supplied
Patrick Quinn as Danforth, Ryan Palmer as Reverend Hale, Siobhan Shea as Mary Warren; photo: supplied by Kathy Verenini
The Crucible plays through March 25 at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts, 2080 NY Highway 43 in Averill Park, NY. For information or tickets go to www.slca-ctp.org or call 518-674-2007.