Regional Reviews: Phoenix
When a group of teenage Salem girls are caught dancing naked and chanting in the woods, and one of them comes down with a strange illness, they need some explanation to cover their actions. So they start spreading rumors that the illness and their strange behavior were due to witchcraft. Caught up in the accusations and lies is John Proctor, a married farmer with a family who once had an affair with the leader of the young accusers, Abigail. Past disagreements among the townspeople over such things as land ownership only add fuel to the fire and make it easier to pit one Salem resident against another.
Mass hysteria spreads, and soon the girls are accusing anyone who gets in their way of being a witch, including Proctor's wife Elizabeth. Abigail is still in love with John and 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 to either confess or be hanged, The Crucible shows how the scheming and conspiring of a group of young girls, or any group of unyielding people who now see how they are the ones in control, can snowball with frightening results.
Director Lucy Garner has assembled a large cast of teens who deliver performances that are embodied with passion. As John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth, Carter Neef and Noelle Parent, respectively, create three-dimensional characters that are emotionally rich and strong in their beliefs. They are both also very good in delivering well thought out portrayals that are understated but direct and they let us see how their characters think before they speak.
Bonnie Wanstreet and Zoe Bauerle are deliciously evil as the two main teenage girls whose desperation results in the downfall of others, Abigail Williams and Proctor's housekeeper Mary Warren, respectively. As the events get out of control and the horrible fates of many townspeople become apparent, Wanstreet and Bauerle deliver performances full of conviction that make you start to wonder if they actually believe the lies they are saying.
Austin Watts is wonderful as the Reverend John Hale, the man sent to Salem to investigate the matters. Watts does good working showing how Hale starts to doubt his own convictions and second guesses the accusations. Aaron Clark is appropriately flustered as the self-righteous Reverend Parris, whose daughter's illness starts the talk of witchcraft. As Deputy-Governor Danforth, the man who oversees the hearings, Tristan Foushee is great in his ability to depict how Danforth is strict but also compassionate for those accused. The remainder of the cast is well directed and deliver assured performances; their facial expressions and body language create appropriate reactionary expressions, especially in the courtroom and large group scenes.
My only quibble is that several members of the cast need to project more to be heard; while AYT's Tuscany Theatre space is small, it still can be very hard to hear if the actors' voices aren't clear and strong. And while Garner's pacing is fine, the intentionally slow set changes (the actors all move set pieces on and off stage as if in a trance, though I'm not quite sure what the intent of that decision is) stop the action, which means it takes a beat or two for the energy of the show to get back up to an appropriate level.
Tanja Bauerle's set design is simple but effective, with the use of some spooky trees that frame the stage. The addition of Zach Lundquest's stark lighting and Lucy Garner's ambient sound design create eerie stage images. The costumes by Laura Wanstreet are period specific. I must add that it's nice to see a production of this show that doesn't try to improve upon the original 1690s setting by changing the year or period.
With a cast who have as much conviction in their portrayals as the young girls of Salem did with their accusations, Actor's Youth Theatre's production is quite solid and still just as powerful today as I have to believe it was when it first premiered in the 1950s during the McCarthy era.
The Crucible runs through October 30, 2021, at Actor's Youth Theatre at the Tuscany Theatre, 861 N Higley Rd, Suite 105, Gilbert AZ. Tickets and information can be found at www.aytaz.org or by calling 480-907-7050
Director: Lucy Garner
Cast: (In Order of Appearance)