Arthur Miller's brilliant play The Crucible , as seen with its sizeable cast of nineteen electric (if not equal) performers in a packed house at the ArcLight Theater, is a terrific show that offers its audience what is best about live theater – a palpable experience. From the moment spurned teenager Abigail Williams (Sherry Stregack) is caught in the woods with a gaggle of young friends performing a secret voodoo love ceremony to eliminate her married lover’s wife, Miller’s account of the 17th century witch trials in colonial Massachusetts builds to a natural frenzy.
To avoid punishment by Reverend Parris (a fierce Keith Barber), the young women begin-- in escalating fashion-- to accuse their neighbors of trafficking with the Devil. Outside metaphysical experts are brought in, like Reverend Hale (a nuanced Kevin Albert), to determine whether Black Arts are indeed afoot, until generalized hysteria swells and the misguided search leads many townspeople to needless execution.
Skilled direction from Pamela Moller Kareman aids this spirited cast (in a regional transfer from Croton Falls) to explore the pervasive dynamics of groupthink. A powerful allegory for the Senate Sub-Committee hearings on Un-American Activities, Miller’s small-town Salem residents undergo parallel conflicts of conscience – is it better to stand in truth and avoid devastating consequences (blacklisting?) or to name names and confess to imaginary crimes?
Standouts of the cast include the mesmerizing Sarah Bennett as Elizabeth Proctor, the upright wife of philanderer John Proctor (a hearty Simon McLean), and a wily John Tyrell as Gilles Correy, the lawsuit-bent farmer who famously cries out “more weight” as he is being pressed to death by heavy stones.
Also logging in with impressive work are Cheryl Orsini as Ann Putnam; Jennifer Hildner as Mercy Lewis, one of the young women in the accusatory posse; and Tyne Firmin as the implacable Judge Hawthorne. Kimberly Matela’s period costumes, David Pentz’s lighting and Matt Stine’s sound all add to the evening’s enjoyable effect.
Absent from the show, however, is the necessary sexual chemistry between John Proctor and an (otherwise very credible) Abigail. Also, the Barbadian nurse, Tituba (Walita) who spearheads the inciting voodoo ceremony (and choreographed the lovely opening dance sequence) is rather jarringly portrayed as being the same age as the other young women.
The Crucible is an excellent and still relevant play -- to think, a human rights group is currently appealing to the Saudi King to stop the execution of a woman accused of witchcraft in the town of Quraiyat. The play is currently being presented with committed and energetic acting by its entire cast at The ArcLight. Go see it.