Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is one of my favorites. Not only is it strong taken at face value as a play about the Salem Witch Trials, it’s also masterful as an allegory for McCarthyism. In this era, as the directors’ notes say, where “our current society seems obsessed with fear,” the play is as timely as ever.
In 1692 Salem, girls have been discovered dancing in the woods; the villagers see this as a sign of witchcraft and start pointing fingers at them, but the girls soon point fingers back, and a court is convened to root out those who are working for the devil. The leader of the girls, Abigail Williams (Abbi Roy) had an affair with a local farmer, John Proctor (Knathan MacKenzie-Roy). Accusing his wife Elizabeth (Sara Paupini) of witchcraft will allow the two of them to be together, or so Abigail thinks. Soon the jails fill with the accused, and they have a decision to make: confess to something they haven’t done and lose their good name and everything they own (and lie, committing a sin in a very religious society) or refuse to confess–which the court says means they are guilty and leads to death by hanging.
Co-directors Val Kavanaugh and Sue Frost have a large cast to corral in this production – 20 altogether, all in period garb – and handle them well; transitions are smooth and the stage never feels crowded. Some scenes are more successful than others – it’s a long show, made longer when cues aren’t picked up quickly, and there are a few actors who need to be snappier about that – but overall, this is a very solid production with true emotion behind it.
MacKenzie-Roy and Paupini are the standouts here, and their scenes are truly a masterclass in acting; something as simple as tense dinner-table conversation comes alive between the two of them. The chemistry and history between them is almost palpable, and their final scene together is heartwrenching. This is my favorite role I’ve seen Roy in. Her Abigail — swollen with the power she has over the village but denied the only thing she truly wants — is mean-girl terrifying, and her scene with the girls (Savanna Rudolph, Fiona Carroll and Zara Pyle) showing Mary Warren (Siobhan Shea) what happens when you cross them is chilling. Dennis Skiba, as Reverend Parris, has an excellent character arc and plays it beautifully; Barbara Leavell Smith, as Rebecca Nurse, one of the accused women, is perfect in her role – her refusal to back down is awe-inspiring. Ryan Palmer, as Reverend John Hale, the voice of reason, does well playing a man doing the right thing even as common sense breaks down all around him.
It may be a cliché, but it’s true: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This is our past but it’s also our present, and this production–beneath the surface–serves as both a reminder and warning of that fact.
“The Crucible”, Circle Theatre Players, Sand Lake Center for the Arts, 2880 NY-43, Averill Park; through March 25; $18-$10; Run time: 2 hours and 55 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 518-674-2007; slca-ctp.org