Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: The Crucible

Saoirse Ronan as Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Teeter as Betty Parriss, Ashlei Sharp Chestnut as Susanna Walcott, Erin Wilhelmi as Mercy Lewis and Ben Whishaw as John Proctor. Photo: Jan Versweyveld
Spellbinding Crucible Magically Conjures Contemporary Hatred 
By Lauren Yarger
Some people, fueled by hatred, tell lies about others, threatening their livelihood and perhaps even their lives. 

A story ripped from today’s headlines about racial tension in Ferguson, MO, terrorist threats amidst refugees crossing borders or Christians refusing to obey laws that violate their beliefs?
No – it’s the plot of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible about hysteria during the Salem witch trials getting a spellbinding revival directed by Ivo Van Hove on Broadway. The message could apply to any of those more contemporary issues filling our culture with hate, however, so fresh and raw is the presentation.

Award-winning film actress Saoirse Ronan is a chilling Abigail Williams, a young girl who seeks revenge on John Proctor (Ben Whishaw) who, guilt-ridden after succumbing to her seduction, allows his godly wife, Elizabeth (Sophie Okonedo) , to turn the servant girl out of their home when she suspects something might be going on.
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Abigail enlists the help of other young girls, who may or may not have joined her in practicing some witchcraft. Betty Parris (Elizabeth Teeter) has been in a trance since the girls met and apparently danced naked in the woods, much to the horror of The Rev. Samuel Parris (Jason Butler Harner). Parris askes the Rev John Hale (Bill Camp) to come investigate.

In the ensuing inquiry and trials which have scores arrested and on trial for their lives, the girls stick together in their story which implicates innocent townsfolk in witchcraft: Tituba (Jenny Jules), Rebecca Nurse (Brenda Wehle) and even elderly Giles Corey (Jim Norton). The madness if fueled when people like the Putnams (Thomas Jay Ryand and Tina Benko) start to wonder if losing many children at young ages might have been due to witchcraft and when Abigail refuses to stop her persecution and the other girls are too frightened to speak against her.

One girl, the Proctors’ new maid, Mary Warren (Tavi Gevinson), tells the truth, but with disastrous results. After all, what does the truth matter when society has decided what you must think and say or lose your life?

The brilliant direction includes setting the play in a school room (designed by Jan Versweyveld, who also designs the lighting) and dressing the girls in school uniforms (Costume Design is by Wojciech Dziedzic). The result is that we see a tale taking place in late 17th-century Salem, but which could be happening today. This, of course, was Miller’s intent, as the play was written in response to the anti-Communism hearings being conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

The contemporary connection is so compelling that the pointing of a finger and screaming the word “witch” can be applied today as people point and scream “Christian!” or “Racist!”  You either get on board with politically correct policies or find yourself ruined – and little care is given to the motivation of those doing the accusing.

Fascinating in their modern application also, are messages about the church. There are comments about people staying away from church because God is hardly mentioned there (a nod toward today’s churches who opt for popularity over preaching the Gospel). The 10 commandments are written on the blackboard, then obliterated as other things are written over them  Video Design by Tal Yarden, in a nod to rewriting scripture when we don’t like what it says – and the silence required about it in our schools).

We have a sheriff of sorts, Ezekiel Cheever (Michael Braun), and Deputy Governor Danforth (Ciaran Hinds) who don’t necessarily agree with what is happening around them, but say nothing because they are just doing their jobs (and don’t want to lose them – remind you of any of today’s politicians?)

The worst offenders are Judge Hawthorne (Teagle F. Bougere) who won’t listen to any version of the truth except the one he wants to hear and Hale, who realizes too late what is happening and then, because he didn’t do what is right in the first place, is impotent.

Though I have seen other versions of The Crucible and thought them good and timely, never before have I been blown out of my seat by the fright of seeing modern events depicted in such a dark and cunning way. The suggestion later, in very dramatic special-effect that devil worship might just behind all of this is particularly chilling and the Original Score by Philip Glass seals the feeling.
Van Hove is my go-to director now for exciting theater (he also made A View From the Bridge more compelling than I ever have seen it earlier this season.)

The Crucible casts its spell through July 17 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $42-$149: thecrucibleonbroadway.com; (877) 250-2929.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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