The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Directed by Julianne Boyd.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"The pure in heart need no lawyers."
The funny thing about Arthur Miller’s play "The Crucible" is there is no funny thing about it. It is a serious play with a serious message, one that almost gets lost these days, set in a time long before our own yet a dead-on satire of the McCarthy vs. the Army hearings that were being televised to a vapid nation back in the early 1950s. Using the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials of 1692 as his setting Miller took on the rigors and agonies of the Un-American Activities hearings and did so in a way that still has resonance today
Julianne Boyd’s highly personal production of this classic is now gracing the boards at Barrington Stage Company’s downtown theater on Union Street in Pittsfield. It is peopled with actors playing characters so well that each actor will for now and perhaps all time be identified with the men, women and children they are playing. Gordon Stanley, for example, makes Giles Corey into a man of hidden strengths willing to sacrifice everything in the name of remorse. And yes, these traits are evident in the writing, but it is the honest, forthright, in-your-face picture painted by the actor that makes a difference this time around. It will be hard to forget his face and voice in this play when he undertakes other roles. Giles Corey is now perceived as Gordon Stanley plays him.
The play, in short, is about the effect that five girls have on a town of nice people in an emerging nation. Religion takes a perverse role when the concept of Devil worship and control overrides all other concerns of the day. Trials for witchcraft take place and the dominant role of a single individual over that nation is soon evident. Good men and women who will not name names, point fingers or give up friends and neighbors are put into jail, or hung until dead. A farm couple struggling through a marriage that has been challenged by lechery are caught up in the maelstrom. The play does not end happily.
Robert Zukerman plays Deputy Governor Danforth who presides at the trials. This is a thankless role, one in which an actor portrays the single-minded hatred of a man obsessed with destroying evil. Zukerman makes him as hateful as it is possible to be while putting forth ideals. His unflagging persistence with a single facial expression is well-imagined and well-wrought and puts us into that uncomfortable state that is so much a part of what Miller was writing about. In his presence we feel threatened.
Kim Stauffer is perfect as Elizabeth Proctor, the farm-wife-victim of a young girl’s hatred and resentment. Jessica Griffin is chilling as that girl, Abigail Williams, whose own lust for Elizabeth’s husband helps to set into motion the charade of madness and possession that she fosters. Proctor himself is played to perfection by Christopher Innvar. Proctor’s emotions and his intelligence are balanced in Innvar’s portrayal of the man. From the outset he is a man on trial and his final scene is played with a cold, perverse view of justice. This is the performance of this actor’s career, I think. It’s the one I’ll cherish.
Glenn Barrett is the sensitive Francis Nurse and he delivers his character with unanticipated charm and finesse. Jeff Kent is Thomas Putnam, a land-grabbing opportunist. Peter Samuel plays Reverend Parris whose daughter triggers the action in this play. Matt Neely plays the court official with brains and heart.
The women and girls, Peggy Pharr Wilson, Gabrielle Smachetti, Caroline Mack, Maggie Donnelly and Rosalind Cramer as a wonderfully wrought Rebecca Nurse are all just fine in their respective roles. Edward Cating is a fascinating Judge Hathorne and Betsy Hogg turns the role of Mary Warren, a troublemaker who almost changes things for the better, into a personal triumph.
Starla Benford is superb as Tituba, the Barbados slave-woman. Fletcher McTaggart is unforgettable as the Reverend John Hale from Beverly, Mass, who attempts time and again to rectify situations that are completely out of his control.
Boyd has blended these many images into a tapestry that reeks of turmoil. She has kept her actors from taking the baby-steps into parody or outrageousness and kept the action, and actors, real. Watching her production, beautifully designed by scene designer David M. Barber, costume designer Kristina Sneshkoff and lighting designer Scott Pinkney, is like being a fly on the wall. There is a true sense of being there rather than of watching a play.
It is impressive to find a playwright’s bio included in a program locally when the play is an old one, a classic. Barrington Stage Company has included on of Arthur Miller and reading it reminds us of the power this man wielded in his time. Boyd’s company has delivered a gift to the Berkshires and even though it takes three hours to completely unwrap it, at the end the wait and effort is all so very worthwhile.
Edward Cating, Robert Zukerman, Fletcher McTaggart, Kim Stauffer; photo: Kevin Sprague
Starla Benford, Jessica Griffin, Fletcher McTaggart; photo: Kevin Sprague
Christopher Innvar, Betsy Hogg; photo: Kevin Sprague
The Crucible plays through October 24 at Barrington Stage Company’s Union Street theater in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888.