The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Directed by Richard Eyre. Sets and costumes by Tim Hatley. Lighting by Paul Gallo. Sound design by Scott Myers. Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Brian Murray, John Benjamin Hickey, Christopher Evan Welch, Angela Bettis, Tom Aldredge, Stephen Lee Anderson, Kristen Bell, Laura Breckenridge, Jennifer Carpenter, Betsy Hogg, J.R. Horne, Patrice Johnson, Sevrin Anne Mason, Paul O'Brien, Jeanne Paulsen, Frank Raiter, Dale Soules, Helen Stenborg, Henry Stram, Jack Willis.
Arthur Miller said, "What I was doing was writing a fictional story about an important theme," referring to The Crucible, the current revival of which opened tonight at the Virginia Theatre. The Crucible is a rich and powerful historical allegory for the McCarthy period and is considered one of his two best plays along with Death of a Salesman.
The enduring strength of this American masterpiece is its ability, through pointed interpretation of the depicted witch hunt, to again and again shock and alarm its audience with the underlying plea for a sane and moral sense of social and political responsibility. Sadly, Richard Eyre has directed this revival with a stolid theatricality which robs it of a very necessary emotional impact and leaves us with little more than small wooden characters on a vast wooden stage, seemingly going through the motions of the play by rote.
Good, solid, reliable, but uninspired are the watchwords for this production, applicable across the board with but a few exceptions. Brian Murray's Deputy Governor Danforth is a subtle and chilling performance, capable of engaging the audience when little else does. Christopher Evan Welch's Reverend Paris has a good moment or two toward the end of the play. And, John Benjamin Hickey's Reverend John Hale shows a respectable sense of personal growth through the evening.
Liam Neeson's John Proctor, while perfectly acceptable in most respects, is too reserved and almost too mannered to provide the fireworks the role ultimately demands. Oddly enough, exactly the same thing can be said of Laura Linney's Elizabeth Proctor, but in her case it works and works brilliantly. If there is one dazzling performance in this revival which should not be missed, it's that of Laura Linney.
Except for the last moment in the play, when the set collapses in what can only be an intentional button to let the audience know it's now time to applaud, Tim Hatley's sets are among the best seen on Broadway in many a year and his costumes are appropriate and curiously attractive in a plain, unassuming way. Paul Gallo's lighting is, as always, superb. Scott Myers' sound design is refreshingly functional and unobtrusive.