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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 7,

2001

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

intolerance

"The Crucible." It is the play he wrote specifically to

denounce

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

award-winning

American classic, it has been given a fine and thought-provoking

production

at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, under the direction of Bonnie

J. Monte.

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

feared

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

control.

As performed on designer Mary Kay Samouce’s stage setting, evocative

of the wooden beams and stone work of four rustic interiors, and

dramatically

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

Salem.

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

overstepping

or under-addressing that fine line of credibility. Paul Niebanck and

Dana Reeve, as John Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth Proctor, are

extraordinarily

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

company.

Memorable moments are also contributed by Carole Caton, as the

dangerously

literate Rebecca Nurse, and Linda Maurel Sithole, as Tituba, the

servant

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

reeling

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

The Crucible , NJ Shakespeare Festival, Kirby Theater,

36 Madison Avenue, Madison, 973-408-5600. www.njshakespeare.org.

$26 to $41. To November 18.


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