The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. Directed by Jeannine Haas. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Catherine Seeley (l), Lia Russell-Self (c) and the girls; photo: John Sutton
" that goodness will not die for me!"
David Snider, Erin Ouellette, Christiana Roewer; photo: John Sutton
There are five or six plays that I can see constantly. They never grow old for me and they always bring me new things to remark on, think about and wish for as the years go on. One of these plays is Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" currently finishing its run at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY. I almost missed it and I wish I'd seen it earlier. At least I've seen it; I urge you to do the same.
Directed by Jeannine Haas, an incredibly talented and facile stage craftsman, the play has even stronger than usual resonances to our own times. When Miller wrote it the McCarthy hearings were filling our tiny television screens and we watched the hunt for communists as though it was entertainment and not devastation. Miller's play about the witch-hunt in Salem, MA in 1692 reflected the language, attitudes and morality of the 1950s hearings perfectly. We could identify Judge Danforth with Joe McCarthy and Reverend Parris with his "assistant" Richard Nixon. Those parallels are harder now, although the Nixon resemblance is borne out in the casting of this production with an excellent Ron Komora as Parris.
Komora is a terrific actor and he plays the role as the ultimate American toady turned official. He is oily; you can almost feel his skin ooze with internally-oriented filth. Parris's belief in himself as a God-representative is so intense that it brings to mind many moments in this year's Republican debates, the 2016 equivalent of the McCarthy hearings. He is also dry, in equal proportions. For this character there is no middle ground and Komora takes his stances with an utter reality that is sometimes chilling.
As the Judge, Lia Russell-Self is surprisingly wonderful. We meet her, initially as the slave from Barbados, Tituba, whose dance and whose confession of devil-mating are beautifully played. As the judge she takes on a very different personna, and she takes it on masterfully. Two performances in this play which are not usually doubled allow this actress the opportunities to explore two radically different sides of an issue and she plays them both with conviction.
Conviction also describes the way David Snider brings reality to John Proctor, one of the many victims of the witch-hunt, but also the principal object of scorn and derision by Reverend Parris. Throughout the play Proctor is the voice of reason, though occasionally tinged with madness brought on by desperate anger. In love he has humility down pat. In anger he controls fury with intelligence. In despair he sprinkles love onto his wounds and is made whole again. A very convincing performance by Snider helps to hold together the fraying cloth of truth in this play.
He is ably matched by Erin Ouellette as his wife Elizabeth. It is Elizabeth's anger and jealousy that sets into motion the action of revenge that brings about the witch scare (aided and abetted by Parris's discovery of women dancing in the woods). Ouellette represents purity and soulfulness as she touches her Elizabeth with a dignity that is not often seen in the role. Her final scene with Snider is emotionally dry and, as a result, extremely touching.
Mary Warren, the girl whose actions implicate the Proctors and later almost stops the trials, is played by Christiana Roewer and the young actress delivers a solid performance in a very difficult role. Abigail Williams, the instigator of charges and leader of the frightened girls, is played by Catherine Seeley, the most unlikely casting and the best surprise of the play. She is erotic in ways that most Abigails have not been. She is angry with a subtle intensity. She really makes the role her own and makes it work superbly.
Others in the cast deliver nicely in their roles: Chris Barlow as an angry Giles Corey, David Borthwick as Francis Nurse, Abby Maher as Betty Parris, Rob Forgett as Thomas Putnam, Deb Borthwick as the almost too good Rebecca Nurse, Kyra Fitzgerald as Ann Putnam.
The almost too young Digby Baker-Porazinski plays the Reverend Hale, a character confused by his own role in the proceedings. He is at times intense for reasons hard to fathom and at other times too rigidly apart. It is a brave performance and one I liked immensely.
The production is handsomely mounted with excellent lighting and projections by Calvin Anderson, perfect costumes by Sherry Recinella and sound design work by Jack Boggan. Director Haas has been fortunate to have a fine team to work with backstage and on-stage and her production of a play with nineteen actors is typical of her finest work. She has given us a chance to see the best writing Miller has left us performed to perfection and if we look carefully at these characters we can truly find our own times reflected there. I won't say the "T" name, but he is on stage in all his irreverent and Hitlerian force. Once again "The Crucible" warns us of our imminent dangers and does so by entertaining us. Who needs television!!
The Crucible plays for three more performances at Hubbard Hall at 25 East Main Street in Cambridge, NY. For information and tickets contact them at 518-677-2495 or through their website at www.hubbardhall.org.