Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 10, 2011

The Crucible

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through October 6, 2011
by Karo Kilfeather

A thinly veiled allegory on the communist hearings led by Senator Joe McCarthy, Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” is a weighty theatrical classic and fine example of pointed social and political commentary. The play is loaded, and the Hartford Stage production wields it like a gun.

Beginning with a loud, chaotic start, “The Crucible” rises to a tension that is never fully released. The audience is as captive as the hapless innocents waiting for their turn at the witch trials.
Choosing a “Grapes of Wrath” meets the Dust Bowl aesthetic over pilgrim attire brings the play closer to us in time, and in spirit. For such a searing political piece, could it be only coincidence that the play produced during the Great Recession recalls the dry somberness of the Great Depression? Indeed, director Gordon Edelstein probably does not want anyone to miss out on possible parallels to today’s political and military events, making some less-than-subtle choices along the way. However, the production overall is so strong, that these are easily forgiven.
The outstanding ensemble cast is led by Michael Laurence as guilt-ridden everyman John Proctor, Kate Forbes as his accused wife Elizabeth, David Barlow as the well-meaning Reverend Hale, and Sam Tsoutouvas as the Deputy Governor who is a powerhouse of self-righteousness and disdain. He is larger-than-life, but never a ham, and matter-of-factly delivers crushing blows to the hopes of Proctor and his friends.
Laurence offers a heart-wrenching portrait of torment as delivered by others and by one’s own self-loathing. He and Forbes create a marriage that is achingly real, and alternately resentful and tender. Rachel Mewbron as Abigail is frighteningly cold and unlovable, and shines coolly when tormenting Keira Keeley’s frightened Mary Warren.
As can be expected of Hartford Stage, the production makes inventive, bold use of a spare and exposed set with well-executed light and sound design. It is a must-see, adult show that grabs the audience and pulls everyone to their seat’s edge. Luckily, Hartford Stage has extended the run through early October.