Centerstage Show Review
Reviewer: Colin Douglas
Sunday Mar 21, 2010
Arthur Miller's 1953 Tony Award-winner, "The Crucible," is, on the surface, an emotionally charged dramatization of the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials. But Miller's motivation for writing this heartbreaking tragedy was to create an allegory for the McCarthy Era during which he and many other citizens were accused of being members of the Communist Party supposedly threatening to overthrow the U.S. government. Miller's comparison to the 17th century witchcraft hysteria is not only logical but timely. Extremist groups still accuse and/or question loyalty or subversion without proper evidence and thus this play continues to be relevant in our world today.
Because "The Crucible" resonates so strongly with contemporary audiences, it's especially important that it be played with truth. Unfortunately Infamous Commonwealth's new production often fluctuates between realism and melodrama as if two completely different plays were coexisting upon the Raven Theatre's west stage.
Playing his role with straightforwardness, warmth and sincerity, Craig C.Thompson is the play's protagonist, John Proctor. His humane, honest portrayal of a New England farmer is at once strong and humble, proud and remorseful and is a match for the cool but genteel Jennifer Mathews as his stoic wife, Elizabeth. Bound together they find their characters slowly sinking along with their friends into a horrific mire of hate and jealousy. Thanks to the work of terrific veteran actors - Susan Adler as the motherly Rebecca Nurse and John Ruhaak as feisty Giles Corey - the audience's empathy and hope grows strong.
Cody Proctor plays visiting cleric Reverend Hale with intelligence and reserve, finding himself torn between his duty to the court and his growing doubt in the authenticity of witchcraft. Nancy Friedrich's touching, sympathetic, earnest Mary Warren strikes an honest chord. But Edward Kuffert is the play's bulwark as an intimidating and unyielding Governor Danforth, who believes he is doing God's work while refusing to admit any misjudgment.
However director Chris Maher makes a few mistakes in this production. Stephen Dunn's ludicrous caricature of Reverend Parris almost ruins this otherwise compelling play. Dunn, eschewing a truthful portrayal, instead prances around the stage screaming, rolling his eyes and waving his arms like a Disney villain. He is nearly matched by Tom Weber's mincing and smirking Ezekial Cheever. When these two actors share the stage, Arthur Miller suddenly turns into Ray Cooney. Add to this an unimaginative set and garish lighting design and you might think twice about seeing this production. But the strengths of this "Crucible" far outweigh its weaknesses and its relevance outshines the banality in this smart piece of theater.