Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The audience at El Museo Cultural is left in the dark, crickets chirping all around, as the far-off shrieks of girls come to us, presumably from the woods outside Reverend Parris's house. The body of a sleeping girl is suddenly there; characters begin talking behind us before we see them; quiet accusations are made. It's a chilling beginning, enough to make you squirm in your seat.
Abigail Williams (Tara Khozein) seems to tell the truth about the girls' nocturnal cavortings, but she's hiding something. When she sees that her uncle, Reverend Samuel Parris (Steven Berrier), wants to blame his Barbados slave Tituba (Danielle Reddick) for bewitching the girls, Abigail obliges. Tituba knows how to play that game. And so the dominoes begin to fall.
Suspicion and accusation grow, layered on an austere stage with an authentic set design by Patrick Mehaffy. The Parris house is cold (the Reverend refuses to use his small stipend to buy firewood) and stark. The Proctor house befits a hardworking farmer and his wife but there is warmth in its homely appointments. I was transported back to New England by those sets and the scene in the Salem Meeting House, thanks to Mehaffy's fastidious hand and the lighting by Skip Rapoport. When you get shivers in Santa Fe on an unseasonably warm evening, you know the setting is perfect.
It was thrilling to enjoy a flawless opening night. The entire ensemble in this tale of stifling hysteria knows what they're about. I especially enjoyed the portrayal of sickly Ann Putnam (Jody Hegarty Durham, sickly only under makeup designer Jerry Ferraccio's deft hand), protesting too much that losing so many babies in a row must be due to witchcraft. Bella Moses gives a very fine performance in the difficult role of Mary Warren, the young woman who works as live-in help for the Proctors while twisting in the net of Abigail's manipulations. Catherine Donavon cuts a principled figure as Rebecca Nurse, whose execution as a witch is one of the cruelest stories to come out of 1692 Salem. Dan Friedman as Giles Corey, the man who was pressed to death with stones yet did not confess to witchcraft, is a refreshing voice of protest. His appearances with his friend, Rebecca's husband Francis Nurse (a suitably bewildered Larry Glaister), underscore the sheer wickedness visited upon these men in their old age.
The terrifying fundamentalism of this purge is embodied in Nicholas Ballas's smug Deputy Governor Danforth, who believes that innocent people shouldn't be afraid of his court. But of course they are, because it seems "damned if you do, damned if you don't" originated there. Ballas commands the stage, as well he should, because the fate of many is in the governor's handsand he is convinced that God is by his side. Hania Stocker plays the Reverend John Hale, who questions his own fundamentalism when he sees what is happening to good people like John and Elizabeth Proctor. I like that in a minister. (I must say here that costume designer Talia Pura has done her homework yet works very well within the constraint that men's clothing hasn't changed all that much in 325 years.)
Of course, Abigail Williams is that mean girl you love to hate, and Khozein makes sure we do. Watch her intelligent face doing its evil calculations while other characters are speaking. But in her act two scene in the forest with John Proctor, she also shows us the torment of a soul driven mad by her own actions. There's no remorse in her, so we can still hate her, but I liked this actor for her choices. Her presence on stage is central when called for, invisible when not, and I saw again director Harrison's sure hand.
The Proctors have solid representation in David Anderson as John and Kate Kita as Elizabeth. Both actors grapple with an underlying contention between husband and wife, yet show their great regard and affection for each other. The Proctors are sorely tried by "the enemy within," as Arthur Miller called it, and the enemies without. Anderson and Kita are up to the task of grappling with their pain and seeing it through to a terribly sad ending that is the only ending for people of conscience.
The Crucible, played straight (meaning not relocated to Nazi Germany or a fictional White House), can be a history play meant for schoolchildren. In Ironweed Productions' hands, it's one of the best things I've seen for adults in New Mexico.
Through November 12, 2017 (Thursday-Saturday 7 pm; Sunday 5 pm; Tickets: $14-25) for Ironweed Productions at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, 555 Camino de la Familia, Santa Fe NM. For tickets and information, call 505-927-5406, ironweedsantafe.com.