Matt Smith of Artslandia reviews The Crucible, giving us a great picture of exactly why audiences should attend the final weekend of performances!
Matt Smith, Artstlandia Magazine:
Mass hysteria afflicted the town of Salem, Massachusetts in the winter and spring of 1692 after several girls began acting in strange ways that the befuddled locals couldn’t explain. Accusations of witchcraft resulted in the execution of 14 women and 5 men. Over 250 years later, the Salem witch trials inspired Arthur Miller to write The Crucible while America was in the grip of another fever, this time over imagined Communists in our midst, bent on overthrowing our way of life. Miller himself was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee after The Crucible premiered in New York, and was denied a passport to attend the London opening of the play.
Scott Palmer directs Bag&Baggage’s production of The Crucible with a creeping unease that begins as soon as the lights go down in the Venetian Theatre in downtown Hillsboro. The girls’ dance in the woods that sparks the events of the play is mentioned but not explicitly written out in Miller’s script. But here, whispers and chants well up in the darkness from the house, quickly overcoming the serene chirping of crickets. As the girls ascend to the stage, pulling at the sleeves of their dresses and writhing in the moonlight, the dance culminates in a piercing scream.
The stage is spare, with just eight wooden chairs in a row which the cast members move into other positions to set the scenes. Red woodcut prints projected onto a scrim establish the locations, such as the meetinghouse or jail. Between scenes, disturbing images of the Devil appear. Behind the semi-transparent scrim, offstage actors sit silent and motionless on two levels, suggesting imprisonment and repression.
Mr. Palmer sets a breathless pace almost immediately. Reverend Parris (Jeremy Southard) is kneeling in prayer as his slave Tituba (Alexandria Morgan) tiptoes by to check on Parris’ daughter tossing and moaning in bed. Soon, Ann and Tom Putnam (Jessi Walters and Gary Strong), Rebecca Nurse (Pat Lach), and Giles Corey (Michael Streeter) enter and begin interrupting and talking over each other. The accusations start to fly, showing what happens when people are truly afraid.
You can tell that Elizabeth Proctor, (Jessica Geffen) is very afraid as she is led away in chains, but she also shows great compassion, empathy and vulnerability as she advises her husband, John Proctor, to meet with one of the accusers, his former lover and housekeeper Abigail. We don’t see much chemistry between Peter Schuyler’s Proctor and Arianne Jacques’ Abigail, despite the restoration of a scene that Miller deleted from the end of Act 2 depicting a meeting in the woods at night between Abigail and Proctor. Mr. Schuyler’s Proctor moves with tension, his brow furrowed, fists clenched and shoulders raised. Meanwhile, Abigail is dissembling and haughty, mistakenly thinking she has the upper hand, not realizing that John, not just his wife, will face the ultimate penalty she’s dishing out.
There is some fine acting in this production of The Crucible, from both newcomers and veterans of Portland-area stages. David Heath, as Judge Danforth, moves about the stage with a predatory ease as he interrogates the other characters. Of all the characters in this play, he seems the most convinced of the correctness of his mission, and embodies the underlying message of Miller’s play: that the greatest sin is to presume to know the will of God. High school senior Alexandria Morgan plays Tituba convincingly, showing the very fine line she must walk. We can plainly see her mental shift when she realizes she needs tochange tactics under the flood of accusations from defending herself to pointing her finger at others.
Reverend Hale (Jake Street) shows moral courage in questioning the direction of the court and the veracity of the witnesses. But Schuyler holds the true center of the story, even as he shifts from resoluteness to a shocked disbelief that things could get so out of hand. At one point, Proctor memorably says: “We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!”
Bag&Baggage’s The Crucible will be runs one more weekend, September 25 through September 28. The show creates some indelible images and resonates in a world still gripped in religious and political fanaticism.
For tickets visit: https://bagnbaggage.org/
September 23, 2014 | Matt Smith