Through November 26
THE CRUCIBLE Kavinoky Theatre
By Augustine Warner
It was a legal lynching, the theocracy that was Puritan Massachusetts reaching into the religious nether world, finding witches and hanging people in the small town of Salem.
The witch trials are a blot on American history and a warning of the risks of merging church and state.
When Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible,” it was perceived as being about McCarthyism and the Red Hunts of the Fifties.
He always denied that and it is much more universal in its look at mass hysteria and theocracy.
The religious zealots who ran the colony held to the views on the pervasiveness of witches which were fading in Europe.
Seemingly hiring half the actors in town, the Kavinoky is staging Miller’s show at a time when this new generation is facing some of the same issues, of zealotry and the claimed primacy of religion.
The story of “The Crucible” is well known, a group of young women bored with life in Salem dance in the woods naked, led by Tituba (Christina Foster), a local slave.
The local preacher, Rev. Samuel Parris (David Lundy) is on shaky grounds with his congregation, probably angered by his paranoia and fear there is a plot against him.
He’s been run out of some other congregations, hinting he might be right about people’s views of him.
Parris knows he has trouble with his niece, Abigail Williams (Shelby Ehrenreich) and his daughter, Betty (Christine Turturro).
Betty is faking demonic possession and the other “girls” are aware of it but go along because they like the attention.
Once Rev. John Hale (Chris Evans) arrives, the situation becomes known across the colony and triggers the power structure into action.
Women named by the young women as friends with the devil start being locked up and tortured, belief in the devil blinding the theocrats to the absurdity of what they were doing.
It’s not surprising, since their mobile parents had left a society with a Witchfinder General.
The madness begins to move outside the small hamlet then called Salem into the rural and agricultural countryside, as wives of yeoman farmers begin to go into custody.
John Proctor (Adriano Gatto) is torn between his love for his troubled wife, Elizabeth (Aleks Malejs), who is arrested, and former maid Abigail who had a short fling with John.
So, one of the key witnesses against the Proctors is violating a central belief of the colony, the sanctity of marriage.
Proctor collides with Judge Danforth (John Fredo), who has been sent in to end the uproar with some quick legal process and quick executions.
In Kelly Copps’ costume design, the black-garbed Danforth strides the stage of colonial Death Row as an avenging angel, convinced he is doing the Lord’s work against evil.
The situation begins to fall apart as a nearby town throws out the witch finders and Danforth, Parris and Judge Hathorne (Peter Palmisano) realize they need quick executions, even as Rev. Hale questions what’s going on.
Hangings start and more loom and absurdity never penetrates.
Proctor is offered the chance to admit he’s possessed but eventually decides he can’t do it.
History tells us the hangings went on, not burnings.
You wind up hating the power structure which would render judgment in these circumstances, making Salem a swear word for the separation of church and state in a country which wavers back and forth on this issue.
Director Robert Waterhouse has some strengths here, the script, David King’s set and the work of Fredo, Gatto, Lundy, Evans, Ehrenreich and Foster.
The problem is that the “The Crucible” cast includes several performers whose vocal skill isn’t up to the awkward acoustics of the Kavinoky.
You can’t always hear them, even from the sixth row.
This is one of those shows you think about as you leave the Kav, the story, its place in American history and how it relates to the ever-changing situation in American life in the struggle between religion and secularism.
Even with its weaknesses, “The Crucible” is worth seeing, for its story and lessons from the past to the present.
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