|Cast members of "The Crucible" at Beaverton Civic Theatre|
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Witch-hunts. They form a recurrent theme throughout recorded history. Like it or not, the potential exists in all cultures for an outbreak of “endemic persecutory mania,” where a society suffering from mass paranoia turns upon itself. Arthur Miller’s classic play The Crucible, while written in direct response to the political “witch-hunts” of the McCarthy era, is as pertinent and potent today as it was over sixty years ago.
|Kira Batcheller as Abigail|
In Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production of The Crucible, director Doreen Lundberg demonstrates a penetrating comprehension of Miller’s essential themes. In a show where the actors too frequently go over the top, but rarely plumb the depths of their characters, Lundberg elicits restrained but powerful performances from her 21-member cast.
The play is based on the actual Salem witch trials of the late 17th century, when over a six-month period 19 “witches” were hanged (and one reluctant witness pressed to death) on the basis of evidence from a group of hysterical young girls. In Miller’s version the girls’ afflictions are orchestrated by 17-year-old Abigail Williams, the jealous and delusional ex-lover of farmer John Proctor, in order to get rid Proctor’s wife Elizabeth. Ironically, Elizabeth (and her unborn child) survive the ordeal, while John Proctor hangs.
The story opens with the Rev. Samuel Parris (Aaron Morrow), Abigail’s uncle, bemoaning his fate while sitting at the bedside of his nearly catatonic daughter Betty (Addison Groendes). Over the course of the play, Morrow convincingly takes his character from the self-centered and self-pitying accuser to the recalcitrant and broken man who, too-late, faces his culpability for the horrors visited on Salem. Like Parris, Ann and Thomas Putnam (James Bass and Valarie Griffiths Brown) have a daughter who appears to be afflicted. Brown effectively conveys Ann Putnam’s despair (having lost seven children she cannot bear to lose another) and anger at the pious midwife Rebecca Nurse (Virginia Kincaid), who is mother to eleven and has never lost a child.
|Kraig Williams as Rev. John Hale|
John and Elizabeth Proctor (Seth Haas and Letitia Maskell) are the driving forces propelling the play to its tragic conclusion. Seth Haas brings a subtlety to his role that may be unexpected to fans of Daniel Day Lewis’ angry performance in the movie version. Haas finds in Proctor’s character a maturity and thoughtfulness that elicits sympathy without histrionics. The modern audience has no trouble relating to Haas’ believable performance as a complex, flawed, but essentially good man. Letitia Maskell’s interpretation of Elizabeth Proctor’s tortured position matches Haas’ performance in its integrity and intensity. Elizabeth’s shame, fear, and anguish flow from her husband’s infidelity, and Maskell shows a steely tenderness that captures every nuance of the role.
|Steve Holgate as Governor Danforth|
The strength of this production is, in part, in the restraint shown by the actors – and this is nowhere more clearly illustrated than by the afflicted girls. In place of unbridled (and potentially comic) hysteria, the audience sees a much eerier and colder Stepford Wives/Village of the Damned ensemble under the thumb of the truly evil Abigail Williams (Kira Batcheller). Of this group, only Mary Warren (Marina Neal) ever attempts to reveal the girls’ duplicity. Neal brings real emotional depth to the dramatic shifts in her character.
W. Paul Brewster provides a few moments of dark comic relief in the role of Giles Corey, whose stubborn individuality leads to his ultimate demise (he is the lucky fellow who gets pressed to death). We cannot ignore the almost-diabolical duo of self-righteous judges (Steve Holgate as Governor Danforth and Chris White as Judge Hathorne). White’s eagerness to “hang ‘em high” contrasts, but ultimately complements, Holgate’s pretentious vision of even-handed but inhumane “justice.”
Set designer Alex Woodard and the construction crew have produced a beautiful backdrop for the play’s events that captures the stark simplicity of the Puritan era. Scene changes are efficient and swift, a welcome feature in a long play.
BCT’s excellent production of The Crucible deserves as full and appreciative a house at every performance as it had on opening night.
The Crucible is playing through October 13th at the Beaverton City Library auditorium. Performances are at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.