Review: The Crucible

Stage

✮✮✮✮½

Lily Slater’s rendition of Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, expounds upon the anxiety, fears, and grief permeating Salem, Massachusetts during the witch trials. The sense of realism the actors manage to achieve often allows them to transcend their fictional roles and permits their indignation towards the cruelty and injustice endured during those trials to be experienced vicariously by their empathetic audience. Perhaps, what is most striking about the production is its ability to precisely capture the sentiments of the time. The performance’s remarkable acting invites the audience to suffer alongside the characters in moments of despair as well as transferring the ability to derive satisfaction from those pinnacle moments that capture human dignity and honor so well.

Within the play, John Proctor endures the harsh repercussions of his brief affair with the ferocious and damming Abigail Williams. Desperate to recapture his affections, Abigail fabricates the presence of witchcraft in Salem and cruelly sends innocents to the gallows. Among her accused victims is John Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, whose honest and principled character suffers the unjust accusations that her husband’s disloyalty created. John alone is cognizant of his past transgressions and of Abigail’s allegations against his wife being just vengeful lies. Consequently, the play centers on the struggle to discern the truth amid a dark chasm of deception.

Actor Thomas Curzon masterfully captures the inner conflict and innate sense of guilt John Proctor experiences. He also maintains a seamless emotional intensity throughout the play, allowing the audience to experience the full weight of Miller’s tragedy. Alongside Curzon’s remarkable performance, is that of Rosalind Brody who poignantly captures the restrained character of Elizabeth Proctor, however, her acting is paramount at those moments when her character wavers from her usual self-discipline and then tumbles into states of passion and grief. The dignified suffering of Elizabeth is countered by Emma Hewitt’s performance of the manipulative and mercenary Abigail Williams.

Creating hysteria on a stage can often go awry, especially when the script demands its actors to shake as if possessed by satanic forces, envision flying birds around them, and echo words as if they were in some hypnotic trance.  Despite the overacting that could have erred on the comedic side, Hewitt, along with her delirious friends, create a chilling effect that allows us to understand why officials could be duped by such outlandish accusations.

While minor traces of anxiety seemed to linger throughout the first half of the play, this initial uneasiness lessened in the second half, permitting a truly dynamic and intense performance to be achieved.

The opening night was not, however, without some minor technical flaws. Some of the electrical wires proved to be an obstacle for the actors as others experienced problems with various props. Notwithstanding, the manner in which they handled these errors is a compliment to the actors’ composure since they did not permit these faux pas to impede the performance.

Performed as the first student production to take place in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre, the actors utilized the space in a brilliant and creative manner. From shadow lighting that conjures the dread and horror of this nightmarish world to resounding echoes of eerie hymnal music, the Sheldonian was taken full advantage of to develop these effects. While there is nothing flashy about the staging, its stark simplicity and comfortless furniture contributes to its bleak atmosphere. Furthermore, instead of having the actors exit the stage in the customary manner after their performance, Slater seats them above the stage until their next cue, allowing them to overlook the ensuing drama, which results in creating a judgmental, courtroom-like atmosphere.

The excitement of being among the first to see a student production in the Sheldonian is, in itself, reason enough to see the play; however, when coupled with the emotional ferocity and depth of this disquieting play, The Crucible becomes a performance not to be missed!

IMAGE/The Crucible Publicity