“Theology is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be counted small.”
Arthur Miller‘s THE CRUCIBLE is, famously, the play about the 1692 Salem witch trials that is not at all about the Salem witch trials. It’s about Joseph McCarthy‘s communist witch hunts of the 1950’s. It’s about the black list and repression and hysteria and even fake news and Donald J. Trump. It is, in essence, timeless, as relevant today as when it premiered 66 years ago. And in Jayce T. Tromsness’ searing new production now playing at the Warehouse Theatre in Greenville, SC, that contemporary relevance literally bursts through the seams.
Deeply researched and based on historical events, THE CRUCIBLE tells of a vengeful young woman, Abigail (Lena Bledsoe), who accuses a rival of witchcraft, setting off a chain reaction of paranoia and fear. As superstition and panic grip the community, one man struggles to choose between upholding his reputation or his integrity.
Director Tromsness sets the play in a box, almost an echo chamber, with audience on two sides. Scenic designer Charlie Calvert uses whitewashed wood to achieve a chilling, rustic feel, with a spare sculptural element at one side that haunts the entire proceedings. Margaret Rose Caterisano’s costumes begin with a period feel and slowly evolve (devolve?) into more contemporary fifties era suits. But even those first “period” costumes, if you look closely, contain obvious elements of modernity, as if the present is literally tearing through the past, ripping space-time, pushing the hysteria of the past into the here and now. Kevin Frazier‘s soundscape enhances those cracks in time while also heightening the boxed-in feeling.
The cast is uniformly outstanding. Jason D. Johnson stars as John Proctor, the fair-minded farmer who gets dragged into the accusations and hysteria erupting around him. Johnson brings a heartrending physicality to the role, compacting himself as time goes on and the weight of the proceedings begin to crush his spirit. As his wife, Elizabeth, Jennifer Webb remains steadfast and upright – physically and emotionally – until the heartbreaking turns near the play’s end, when hers primal emotions come through. It’s a powerful performance.
Powerful, too, is Zach Stolz as Rev. Hale, the intellectual and somewhat idealistic witch hunter. Stolz brings a sense of warmth and decency to the character that beautifully underscores Hale’s gradual transformation.
Other standouts include Lena Bledsoe as the duplicitous Abigail, Bella Lawrence as Mary Warren, Brock Koonce as Giles Corey, Matt Reece as Rev. Parris, Alexandria Greene as Tituba, Jay Oney as Danforth – really, I could just print the entire cast list. This is a strong ensemble expertly guided by director Tromsness.
There’s a reason we continue to see classics and that they continue to speak to us. Especially when they’re brought to life this well.