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A CurtainUp Review
Sad to say Arthur Miller's The Crucible is not reliant on the political situation that seeded it -- the McCarthy hearings during which people were coerced into accusing friends and colleagues of Communist affiliation. The toxic fallout of intolerance and group hysteria can be seen in many events postdating the McCarthy witch hunting days. The recent rash of articles about the cruel clannishness of teen aged girls give Miller's use of Abigail Williams and her little circle of friends as stand-ins for the accusatory House Un-American Activities committee has an almost eerie prescience. And while we've come a long way from the puritanical sexual mores that darkened John and Elizabeth Proctor's marriage and still prevailed in the 1950s, our high divorce rate proves that men and women still have trouble communicating with each other.
Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
---John Proctor's Act IV explanation of why he cannot confess to witchcraft to save himself from the gallows.
All the above is to say that no, you don't have to be old enough to remember the "naming names" period that understandably outraged Miller. His outcry against intolerance is still one to which, to quote Willy Loman's wife, "attention must be paid." In fact, I think this 50th anniversary revival will probably speak most poignantly to those who have never seen the play -- and for whom dramas with large casts and stagecraft budgets, towering emotions and a rousingly heroic climax are rare treats.
For all its worthiness and enduring timeliness, The Crucible is Miller at his most melodramatic and preachy. The slow-to-get-going first act makes Linda Loman's demand to pay attention something of a challenge. (At the risk of making this review equally slow-starting, I've put a plot summary at the end of the production notes below). But the play does catch fire in the middle, and takes full hold of your heart in its almost biblical final scene. Naturally, a fiery actor to portray the pivotal figure of John Proctor and strong staging and production values, will have the play's power override that slow start.
Liam Neeson more than fulfills one's highest expectations for a physically and emotionally powerful John Proctor. While Paul Gallo's dark though evocatively moody lighting at times make it hard to see the large cast's faces, Neeson's rugged features register every emotion with utmost clarity. His tall muscular body and portrayal of Proctor's fiercely independent spirit and sexuality dominate the stage. It's as if Tim Hatley's handsome and monumentally proportioned wooden set was built to accommodate this mountain of a man, who though shackled and with hair shorn, Samson-like, rises like a phoenix in the explosive finale.
Neeson's voice too resonates to the furthest reaches of the theater which, can't be said for some of the supporting cast, especially the women who tend to screech. Of course, noone ever has to strain to hear every booming word spoken by that omnipresent actor, Brian Murray who is ideally cast as Deputy Governor Danforth.
Neeson's co-star Laura Linney, rises to the required nobility but for most of the play she is kept from making a strong impression by the reserve of her character and the dark look-alike Puritan costumes. Except for the above comment about an excess of screeching, the cast overall provides sturdy support. Among the women, Helen Stenborg as Rebecca Nurse and Jennifer Carpenter as Mary Warren merit special praise. Noteworthy among the men are
Christopher Evan Welch as the unctuous Reverend Parris (though this fine actor seems to be getting typecast in these not particularly sympathetic roles) and John Benjamin Hickey as Reverend Hale, the ominous witchcraft expert who ultimately has a crisis of conscience.
Under Director Richard Eyre, The Crucible, is as Miller wrote it -- an old-fashioned play, exalting old fashioned grace under fire with plenty of sizzling emotions on display. It may not have as many quotable lines as, Death of a Salesman but like that masterpiece it is a rousing ode to the common man.
For CurtainUp's background on Arthur Miller with links to other reviews, go here.
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Directed by Richard Eyre
John Proctor / Liam Neeson,
Elizabeth Proctor/ Laura Linney;
Reverend John Hale/ John Benjamen Hickey;
Reverend Parris/ Christopher Evan Welch
Abigail Williams/ Angela Bettis;
Giles Corey/ Tom Aldredge;
Hopkins/ Stephen Lee Anderson;
Susanna Walcott/ Kristen Bell;
Girl in Courtroom/ Laura Breckenridge;
Mary Warren/ Jennifer Carpenter;
Betty Parris/ Betsy Hogg;
Judge Hathorne/ J.R. Horne;
Tituba/ Patrice Johnson;
Mercy Lewis/ Sevrin Anne Mason;
Thomas Putnam/ Paul O'Brien;
Ann Putnam/ Jeanne Paulsen;
Frances Nurse/ Frank Raiter;
Sara Good/ Dale Soules;
Rebecca Nurse/ Helen Stenborg;
Ezekial Cheever/ Henry Stram;
Marshall Herrick/ Jack Willis;
Dep. Gov. Danforth/ Brian Murray
Set Design and Costume Design:
Sound Design: Scott Meyers
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes , including
one 15 minute intermission)
The Virginia Theatre,
245 W. 52nd Street (52nd & Broadway) 239-6200
10/12/01-6/08/02; opening 3/07/02.
Tuesday-Saturday Eves 7:30; Wed, Sat and Sun matinees @ 2pm -: $85 - $40 with limited number of $25.00 Student Rush Tickets: (Plus $1 theater restoration charge) on day of performance-maximum of 2 tickets per Student with valid ID.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on March 8th performance.
The plot in a nutshell:
In the Puritan New England town of Salem, Massachusetts, a group of girls are caught dancing in the forest with a black slave named Tituba. by the local minister, Reverend Parris. One of the girls, Parris's daughter Betty, falls into a coma-like state which raises questions of witchcraft though separate arguments between John Proctor, Parris, and several other Salem citizens, indicate that the real issue (as is so often the case) is money and land deeds.
Abigail Williams, the girls' ringleader, turns from accused to accuser. She is motivated by jealousy and anger. (While working for at the Proctor farm, she had an affair with John, who no longer wants her and allowed his wife to fire her). A number of local women are arrested and Elizabeth Proctor urges her husband to denounce Abigail as a fraud, even though it will mean exposing their marital problems. When she is also accused John persuades their maid Mary, a member of Abigail's circle, to testify against the girls. Her testimony backfires when the accuse Mary of bewitching them upon which Proctor does confess his adultery. To test his claim, Deputy Governor Danforth summons Elizabeth who, hoping to save her husband, inadvertently causes his arrest.
The play then moves to the following summer by which time Abigail has fled and Reverend Hale, the witchcraft expert, has lost faith in the court and begs the accused witches to confess falsely in order to save their lives. When they refuse Danforth, unnerved by civil unrest, asks Elizabeth to talk John into confessing. Proctor agrees but revokes his confession, and the play ends with his going to the gallows with the others rather than to sacrifice his good name and live when the others can't.
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