Many of us can recall reading Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” in high school, spending a few weeks reading lines out loud and talking about its themes for the purpose of education. While reading as a young person was a memorable experience, there is something terrifying about being swept into a live version of this pertinent story based on the most notorious American example of mass hysteria in the gorgeous Avon Theatre at the Stratford Festival.
…haunting and horrifying…
Inspired by actual events, the play opens with various Salem townsfolk convening at Reverend Parris’ house inquiring about his daughter, Betty, who has fallen suspiciously ill. Knowing Betty was seen with a group of young women dancing naked in the forest with Parris’ Barbadian slave Tituba, it doesn’t take long for rumors of witchcraft to swirl. As people take turns trying to diagnose Betty, accusations start flying. By the end of the first act, men and women of all ages and even spotless reputations are being arrested and tried for witchcraft. Amongst these accusations, the young and driven Abigail Williams tries desperately to reconnect with her former employer and one-time lover, the farmer John Proctor.
Straford’s production tells the story phenomenally well, making it one of the most frustrating, uncomfortable and, at times, horrifying things you will sit through in a theater. Director Jonathan Goad has taken great care to avoid easy, predictable theatrics during Miller’s many speeches in favor of saving wild outbursts for only the show’s poignant moments.
The production design as a whole is stellar, backed by a simple, dynamic set by Michael Gianfrancesco and shrouded in utterly harrowing lighting designed by Bonnie Beecher. Complete with haunting and at times heart-stopping sound designed and composed by Debashis Sinha, “The Crucible’s” technical elements will stay with you long after the show concludes.
Every actor has a moment to standout throughout this staging of the Crucible, allowing the audience to morally question each character, wondering whether their accusations or the accusations against them are remotely credible.
Leading the cast is Tim Campbell as the strong, increasingly frustrated and passionate Proctor. As one of the tallest actors in the show, he commands the room as he steps in wearing his tall boots and dirty leather trench coat. Without giving away how the story ends, his character arc is one of the most powerful and frustrating to watch.
Katelyn McCulloch is the notorious Williams, the ringleader of Salem’s young ladies at the center of the witchcraft accusations. What she says goes, and McCulloch makes that terrifying truth clear from the start. She’s manipulative and smart, and, no matter how unlikable, her powers of persuasion can’t be tamed.
This production also opened my eyes to two other characters who I think the audience resonates the most with as the story develops – the Proctors’ employee, Mary Warren (Mamie Zwettler) and Reverend Hale (Rylan Wilkie). They begin the story the same way – horrified at the possibility of witches in Salem and anxious to do their part to stop it. As Warren starts to realize what Williams is up to, with the help of John Proctor, she tries to stand up for herself in court, with Zwettler delivering a stunning performance as Warren is questioned and threatened.
Hale is committed to ridding the world of witches as well, and despite being one of the more level-headed people in power, doesn’t budge on his beliefs until Warren and Proctor arrive at the court. When Hale truly begins to realize the horror of what he’s assisted in accomplishing and is unable to stop it, it is a truly heart breaking moment for the audience.
Stratford’s “The Crucible” is haunting and horrifying, especially in a world where people put strong stake in things they believe to be true, no matter how outlandish, just because they heard them from a source they trust. It is a truly thought-provoking and unforgettable time at the theater well worth the drive to Stratford.
Running Time: Three hours including a 20-minute intermission.
“The Crucible” runs through October 25 at the Stratford Festival’s Avon Theatre. For more information, click here.