When Reverend Samuel Parris's daughter Betty is afflicted by a strange illness, it doesn't take long for a group of young girls to start spreading rumors throughout Salem that it is due to witchcraft. The girls have been caught dancing naked in the woods, with the slave Tituba chanting around a pot, so they need some explanation to cover their actions. Caught up in the accusations and lies is John Proctor, a farmer who once had an affair with the leader of the young accusers, Abigail. Past disagreements among the townspeople only adds fuel to the fire and makes it easier to pit one Salem resident against another. Hysteria spreads, and soon the girls are accusing any who get in their way, including Proctor's wife Elizabeth. Since Abigail is still in love with John she sees her new-found power as the means to get Elizabeth out of her way. With superstition outweighing facts, and the only two routes for those accused being to either confess or be hanged, it shows how the scheming of a group of young girls, or any group of adamant people, can snowball into a frightening outcome that still resonates today.
Scott Johnson has assembled a cast who embody their parts with as much conviction as the young girls of Salem did with their accusations. Brad Cashman is passionate, strong, emotional, and heartbreaking as Proctor. Kelly Hajek is equally as good in the smaller part of his wife. As the two main teenage girls whose desperation turns to the downfall of others, Jamie Bornscheuer and Ashley Shirley are full of fire and deceit as Abigail and Proctor's housekeeper, Mary Warren, respectively. When Shirley matter of factly states "It's God's work that we do," in reference to the allegations they are making, with a steadfast gleam in her eyes, it clearly shows not only how scary the situation is but that she also actually believes what she is saying.
Lochlan DuVal is pious and full of self-righteous condemnation as Reverend Parris. Alex Martinez is Deputy-Governor Danforth, the man who oversees the hearings, and he is appropriately level headed, stern and direct but still somewhat compassionate for those accused even if he refuses to hear all the evidence in their favor. As John Hale, the Reverend sent to town to investigate the matters, R. Allyn McCoy is quite good, especially when he starts doubting his own convictions, second guessing the accusations and the numerous death sentences that he has signed.
While Miller's play was originally staged in the period of the Salem witch trials, DFT's production updates the setting to the times of the McCarthy trials, which doesn't really add much to the proceedings, but doesn't detract either, and it does nicely tie the two infamous events together. Johnson's direction is clear with good use of the entire small space. He also incorporates sound and light at appropriate times that combine with the intimate venue to elevate the emotional aspects of the drama to a fever pitch, adding to the impact of the script and this production. The whitewashed wooden set by Dillon Girgenti is compact but multipurpose, and the costumes by Hanna Watts are good and fairly 1950s specific. While the majority of the cast are quite gifted actors, my only complaint has to do with the reactions of some of the supporting cast when they are all on stage at the same time but don't have lines, as some of them seem like they don't know what they should be doing. My suggestion is to follow the lead of Duval and Bornscheuer who show two different types of appropriate reactionary expressions: Duval's are inquisitive and provoking while Bornscheuer's are scarily ice cold, both which fit perfectly with their characters.
Just as powerful today as I have to believe it was when it first premiered during the McCarthy era, The Crucible at Desert Foothills Theater is a worthy production of a stunning piece of literature.
The Crucible at Desert Foothills Theater runs through July 26th, 2015, at the FCF-Holland Cabaret Theater, 34250 N. 60th Street in Scottsdale. Tickets and information on upcoming shows can be found at www.desertfoothillstheater.org or by calling 480 488-1981
Directed by Scott Johnson