Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
"Are you now or were you ever?"
When Arthur Miller was called to testify, he refused to name people. He was charged with contempt of Congress and sentenced to a fine $500 or a month in prison. His passport was revoked. Later, on appeal, he was cleared of any wrong doing.
Miller developed The Crucible, the story of the search for witches in Salem, Massachusetts, and let it evolve into a parallel of the HUAC's search for Communists. The play was not successful when it first opened on Broadway. However, The Crucible continues to be one of Miller's most frequently produced plays.
Now, a superb production of The Crucible is in the Outcalt Theatre in the Cleveland Play House. The show is performed in the round, with the audience completely circling the playing area. A large square of the playing area is on an elevator and moves up and down to change locations of the action.
The story starts in 1692 in Salem, where authorities have started a witch hunt for real witches. Those accused of being a witch were hanged in the public square. This search for witches started after Betty Parris became ill after an evening of sinful dancing in the woods with some of her girlfriends. Dancing was considered a sin and was punishable by a beating. According to gossip, the girls were dancing nude around a kettle, suspended over a fire. The kettle contained soup, some said. Others said the soup might include frogs or other items used by witches to work their magic.
Ann Putnam, who had lost several children at birth, insisted the midwife was a witch. Others blamed witchcraft for everything that went wrong in their lives.
Laura Kepley (director) had a few problems before she started directing this production. First, The Crucible has melodramatic moments. The temptation is to say, this is a play, these things didn't happen. Yet similar things did happen and in this country.
However, Kepley has done a superior job directing this long production. She helped the actors evolve individual characters. She keeps the pace of the show moving briskly. She never permits the production to become sentimental, melodramatic, or maudlin.
Second, the subjects discussed in this play are not easy topics. The script deals with life and death issues, personal freedoms, and philosophy of life, a belief in God, witches and spirits, and the protection of one's good name. Consequently, the performers and director must move the action to emotional high points. The subjects discussed in this play evoke strong emotions and, don't forget, many of these characters are fighting for their lives.
The Crucible is well preformed. The director has cast some of the best performers in northern Ohio.
Esau Pritchett is mesmerizing as John Proctor. He has a rolling-river voice and moves like a well-trained cat as he struts the stage demanding his rights and protecting his good name. Pritchett and Rachel Leslie as Elizabeth Proctor are wonderful as a happily married couple with two sons who find their lives torn apart by gossip and a strange witch hunt.
Ann Putnam (Tracee Patterson) and Thomas Putnam (Fabio Polanco) seem desperate to find a reason for the deaths of their children, even if they blame those deaths on witchcraft. Both of the actors have a reputation for doing comedy and light musicals well. However, they are excellent in their dramatic roles in this production.
Dorothy Silver, the first lady of the Cleveland theater, plays Rebecca Nurse, a character looking for truth, honesty and a way to protect her good name. Silver helps create the dramatic final moment of this product when Rebecca walks hand-in-hand with John Proctor to the gallows. As they walk to their deaths, the ropes designed to hang them stretch from the ceiling. The lights fade except for two spotlights on the ropes. This powerful moment surely burns in the minds of the audience members.
The Crucible is not a pleasant evening in the theater. However, it is a necessary evening in the theater. Don't miss this intelligent, thought-provoking production.
The Cleveland Play House is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The celebration starts with this production, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of Arthur Miller's birth.
The Crucible plays through November 8, 2015, in the Outcalt Theatre of the Cleveland Play House. Note that the performances start at 7:30 pm. For ticket information, telephone 216-241-6000 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
Following The Crucible the Cleveland Play House brings back its successful production of A Christmas Story, the play (November 27 through December 23, 2015).
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Cast and Crew:
- David Ritchey