Besides the outstanding acting, the other most notable feature of Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” which opened Friday, is the skilled direction of Michael Donald Edwards — making this fast paced version of Arthur Miller’s classic American drama absorbing and gripping from beginning to end.
The Tony Award-winning play, which premiered on Broadway in 1953, is a dramatization of a partially fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials, which took place in 1692 and 1693 in the then Province of Massachusetts Bay.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Miller, whose plays focus on personal and social responsibility, wrote “The Crucible,” as an allegory of the McCarthy era during which the U.S. government blacklisted suspected communists and destroyed reputations and careers by making accusations without regard for evidence. Miller himself was convicted in 1956 of contempt of congress after he was questioned by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities for refusing to identify those at a meeting he attended.
Edwards’ superb direction was also manifested in the fine performances of this entire company of actors who excelled at capturing the characters from “The Crucible” and their dour and prudish Puritan way of life that demanded strict conformity and “purity” of worship and doctrine. It’s this very extreme set of beliefs, however, that causes them to presume that the Devil is everywhere, and thereby become susceptible to manipulation — prompting them to turn against those they fear are Satan’s followers.
IRT regular, Ryan Artzberger, turned in his usual well-crafted performance as John Proctor, the decent, yet flawed, simple, salt of the earth farmer, who, as the play’s moral center, chooses to hang rather than confess to witchcraft and lose his good name. Compelling in all his scenes, Artzberger was particularly moving during the scene near the end of the play during which Proctor meets with wife Elizabeth after having been separated from one another for months due to their imprisonment.
Stephen Pickering was powerful in his characterization of pompous, self-seeking Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth, whose villainous determination to protect his own image as a hard-nosed protector of the law makes him responsible for the sacrifice of innocent lives for the sake of public opinion.
Robert Elliott gave the most colorful performance as Giles Corey.. Indicted for witchcraft, Elliot’s Corey shows chutzpah and is defiant to the end as he refuses to enter a plea even while he is being pressed to death by stones by his accusers. Corey shows such determination because, by law, if he refuses to plea his children will inherit his estate and he can spite another character who he believes wants his land.
The versatile Rob Johansen, another IRT regular, also stood out as the unscrupulous, materialistic and arrogant church minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, who is more concerned about his reputation than the well-being of his own family members and the flock he serves.
Elizabeth Laidlaw was believable as John’s stoic wife Elizabeth Proctor and Isabel Ellison as scheming Abigail Williams, his former mistress, who masterminds the deception behind the witch hunt also fulfilled her role well.
Standing out as well was talented Millicent Wright as Reverend Parris’ slave, Tituba, from Barbados, who, to save her own life, conspires with Abigail to accuse others of witchcraft.
The show’s stark, box-like set, which featured wood paneled walls and floors and a beamed ceiling, suggesting the austere, no-frills lifestyle of the Puritans, was designed by Lee Savage and served as the backdrop for the play’s multiple locations. Combined with designer Jennifer Schriever's lighting which emulated natural light puncturing dark spaces, Tracy Dorman’s costumes which reflected the Puritan’s uniform-like dress code, and composer and sound designer Fabian Obispo’s ominous-sounding music score — the total effect was one in which the atmosphere was dark and foreboding.
As far as the play’s relevance, all one has to do look around and see the effects of today’s religious fundamentalism that seeks to demonize and even destroy those who don’t follow its dogma or adhere to its rigid beliefs. “The Crucible” reminds us to always to be vigilant in regards to our freedom of thought, protect our rights as individuals, and not succumb to manipulation or intimidation.
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