Posted by Spencer Koch | Posted in Entertainment Guide | Posted on 09-02-2011
Tags: Dated, Dated Still
The bad news is that this production is so good, it points to how stiff and dated the original material can sometimes seem. To clarify: Arthur Miller is a genius. And this play is an essential piece of 20th-century writing and history. But, dang, sometimes Miller can really beat you over the head with meaning, importance, metaphor and seriousness.
What: Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”
When: through March 13
Where: Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington St., Providence, R.I.
Tickets: $21-66; $12 for bench seats
Reservations: 401-351-4242 or www.trinityrep.com
But here’s why you should see the show, and see it as soon as you can: The story’s still powerful; 19 innocent men and women were killed in Salem in the 17th century, and countless careers and lives were ruined by the House Un-American Activities Committee. And you couldn’t ask for a stronger ensemble to tell it.
Which is what Trinity Rep fortunately lets it do, without any schlocky period gimmicks. The centerpiece of Eugene Lee’s sparsely decorated set is a giant ceiling-to-floor photo of Providence’s City Hall, looming ominously over dusty gray steps. With little more than a couple of props — tables, chairs and a three-tier platform (which director Brian McEleney uses well during the hierarchical shifts in the courtroom) — the energy and intelligence of this cast, and its exploration of the text, is riveting.
As an example of how deeply the actors mine the script, who knew Miller could be so funny? A sarcastically uttered line, “The pure at heart need no lawyers,” elicited one of the night’s biggest laughs.
Leading the stellar ensemble is Stephen Thorne as John Proctor, who is physically transformed from his last role with Trinity (as Arthur in “Camelot”) into a man who has already sentenced himself to death for guilt over his affair with 17-year-old Abigail Williams. His shoulders are slumped, his beard scraggly, his eyes wavering between revulsion, sadness, regret and hope.
As Abigail, Olivia D’Ambrosio, a third-year Brown/Trinity Rep MFA candidate, has some strong moments of her own, injecting muscle into this difficult role of accuser and scorned pre-woman. It’s an explosive moment when she first unveils her manipulative nature, punching one of the other girls in the face, yelling, “I will bring a pointy reckoning and smash you!” And as Abigail listens to the growing talk of witchcraft through the town, you can’t help but watch her face as the wheels in her head begin to turn.
Also well-cast is Angela Brazil, who brings a complexity not often seen in Proctor’s too-saintly wife, Elizabeth (a fault, I think, of Miller’s difficulty writing women — I’m sorry, Miller, I love you, I really do). The quiet intensity of Brazil’s performance is a steady counter to Thorne’s touching volatility.
Another performance highlight is Rachael Warren as Mary Warren (names coincidental), engaging as a child at first enthralled by the petty gossip and courtroom drama — trying on her newfound power over others’ lives like a prom dress. In a way, this is reminiscent of recent bullying episodes in national news: Oh, the cruel things our youngest are capable of. Warren, unlike the other girls, eventually tries to do the right thing, only to be crushed by the system.
And if anyone represents the system, it’s Deputy Governor Danforth (Fred Sullivan Jr.), who swells like a tick drunk on blood, sentencing innocent after innocent to the gallows. Even as other participants in the tragedy start to realize their terrible mistake, Danforth is steady in his conviction. Which is the heart of fundamentalism, after all: the inability to see any medium between good and evil.
As Danforth asserts, witchcraft is an “invisible crime,” incapable of being proved or disproved, much like communism, terrorism or any other tool that has been used in our history to wrongfully condemn the undeserving. And when this cast grapples with such large ideas and such a terrible period in history, the effect is utterly — forgive me — bewitching.