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Photo: www.olneytheatre.org
Photo: www.olneytheatre.org

The Crucible Is a Trip Worth Taking

“These are strange times,” notes a disheveled Reverend Hale in the semi-fictional town of Salem, Massachusetts. This is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and it has had its share of the spotlight since its 1953 run on Broadway. The “strange times” of Salem have had a way of speaking to audiences, whether fifty years ago, twenty years ago or today.

Miller himself notes the following:

“The play seems to present the same primeval structure of human sacrifice to the furies of fanaticism and paranoia that goes on repeating itself forever as though imbedded in the brain of social man.”

This is to say that the “strange times” of Salem are the strange times of every age, including today. And it’s the reason why I could sit through a hundred more productions of Olney Theatre’s The Crucible. Don’t miss it. Under the clear direction of DC’s own Eleanor Holdridge, the three-hour play held court from start to finish and as I watched Rev. Parris enter, mystified by his unconscious daughter, I found myself a member of a befuddled jury.

That’s the hook of this play– it challenges the audience’s frame of reference. As every character questions reality, the audience is pulled in and also begins to question what can be known. That’s the devil’s greatest play– per Miller’s Salem– he conflates dream with reality.

It’s a play with a McCarthy-era tinge, but more broadly speaks to what Miller called the lack of a moral reference.  This sentiment emerged after the war and in light of the rise of the Soviet Union, and claimed that there was nothing on which to base belief. “Nobody but a fanatic, it seemed, could really say all that they believed,” Miller says.

The play is packed with well-meaning individuals. Holdridge and her cast do justice to the good intentions of their characters and do not fall into stereotypes. At the helm is the perfectly-cast Chris Genebach as John Proctor. Genebach walks a moral high ground and provides an anchor to the ensuing frenzy and uncertainty.

Beside him, and equally as anchored, is Elizabeth Proctor (Rachel Zampelli). Zampelli brings an authenticity that makes her magnetic to watch. Holdridge’s staging of the goodbye scene between the Proctors is particularly striking. With only eyes for each other, Zampelli and Genebach perform a beautiful dance in which their whole marriage seems to come to its fulfillment.

The cast is fleshed out with a powerful performance from Paul Morella as Danforth. Waiting backstage for all of Act I, Morella emerges post-intermission like a cannon ball and holds court (quite literally) till the end. Scott Parkinson as Reverend Hale is excellent. The character’s arc from being the expert on demonic possession to lying crumpled up in a prison cell is heartbreaking in Parkinson’s able hands. A fabulous Brigid Cleary (as Rebecca Nurse) and Craig MacDonald (as Giles Corey) bring a comic depth which balances out an other wise serious storyline.

The Crucible is a trip worth taking. You will find yourself questioning whether the sky is indeed blue and whether the grass truly is green. A note of caution: uncertainty is Satan’s most powerful tool. He’s in the game of dashing certainty and crippling reason. But take the trip. These times are strange. See what is before your eyes— it’s there that you will find the truth. The Crucible runs until May 20 at Olney Theatre. For tickets and pricing vist: www.olneytheatre.org

Olney Theatre Center: 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; 301-924-3400