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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 7,
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `The Crucible’
The mass hysteria that the Salem witch hunt provoked
in the 17th century was no more or less insidious an epidemic than
the one that McCarthyism fostered during the 1950s. American need
never forget the political, moral, and ethical issues on trial, in
either century, thanks to Arthur Miller’s arresting drama of
"The Crucible." It is the play he wrote specifically to
the too often rampant inequities of so-called justice. And now, 50
years later, in yet another century, and in the light of the most
recent and horrific events, are we prepared and willing to be tested
again, to see how one’s rage and fear is apt to be manipulated and
used to create another witch-hunt?
Just when I thought I’d had enough of Miller’s 48-year-old
American classic, it has been given a fine and thought-provoking
at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, under the direction of Bonnie
With a minimum of hysteria, Monte is giving us a most sober and clear
vision of Miller’s troubled play. The infamous witch trials of 1692
in Salem, Massachussetts, with its not too subtle political analogies,
were dramatized by Miller to not only pontificate on the general evils
of superstition and mass hysteria, but to vividly recreate a time
when these human and inhuman aberrations lived in a society that
both God and the Devil, in equal measure. "The Crucible" tells
the tale of innocent people victimized by a jealous, lecherous girl
and her young followers when their devilish fantasies get out of
As performed on designer Mary Kay Samouce’s stage setting, evocative
of the wooden beams and stone work of four rustic interiors, and
lighted by Matthew Adelson, the plot abounds, sometimes chaotically,
in accusations, denials, threats, and confessions. This havoc unfolds
as the misguided minister Reverend Paris (Brian Dowd) and the Deputy
Governor Danforth (William Metzo) interrogate the good citizens of
Dowd is as maddening as a clergyman blinded by his own self-serving
goals, as is Metzo as the chillingly stiff-necked and arrogant law
enforcer. While it is the household of adulterous farmer John Proctor
and his reverential, loving wife Elizabeth that is the central focus,
the involvement of the townspeople is made into riveting cameo scenes.
Monte’s staging is notable for being dramatic without resorting to
flamboyance and expressive without a glimmer of pretension.
Representing an unprecedented burst of artistic correctness, all the
performances are first rate, with not a single actor either
or under-addressing that fine line of credibility. Paul Niebanck and
Dana Reeve, as John Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth Proctor, are
moving and tragic figures in this riveting chronicle of a civilization
run amok by vindictive predators. Reeve is impressive as the farmer’s
wife who, although limited by the restraints of a puritanical social
structure, reveals in her modest movements and tormented expressions
a mighty spirit. Niebanck’s stunning performance, as the stolid farmer
guilty of adultery, but who ends of representing the most noble and
ethical aspects of the human spirit, stands high among a compelling
Memorable moments are also contributed by Carole Caton, as the
literate Rebecca Nurse, and Linda Maurel Sithole, as Tituba, the
from Barbados. Tom Brennan, as the irrational Judge Hawthrorn, makes
a good case for the pompous attitude of the law. A steely Erin Lynlee
Partin is appropriately chilling as the as the vengeful Abigail, a
bad seed among a barrel full. Jacqueline Firkins’ appropriately drab
costumes offset the almost blinding tension that permeates "The
Crucible" from start to finish.
Yet it is the sheer force of Miller’s writing that will have you
long after the final curtain. It has been 17 years since the last
production of "The Crucible" at the Shakespeare Festival.
Perhaps we need to be reminded at least once in every generation with
a production of "The Crucible," and consider its meaning —
a severe test or hard trial.
— Simon Saltzman
36 Madison Avenue, Madison, 973-408-5600. www.njshakespeare.org.
$26 to $41. To November 18.
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