Theatre Review: The Crucible
By Brianne Hogan
Hannah Miller as Abigail in Arthur Miller's The Crucible (Image: Cylla von Tiedemann)
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible became one of my favourite plays after reading it for the first time in grade 12 English. No doubt, my curiosity of Wiccan culture at the time attributed to my admiration of the American classic (I was a pretty superstitious teenager). So, 10-plus years later, as I waited for the Soulpepper production to start, I wondered if my fondness for the play would remain the same or diminish.
Even if you haven’t seen or read The Crucible, its plot is pretty ingrained within our pop culture lexicon (remember SNL’s Salem Bitch Trial sketch with Shannen Doherty from the ‘90s?). So more than likely, one knows that it revolves around something to do with witches, and something to do with McCarythism. In fact, the play, which was written in 1952, is set during the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s, and it is an allegorical response to the raging days of the Cold War and its commie paranoia.
Miller’s play is a central work in the American drama canon for a reason. Though the Cold War is behind us, the story’s main tent poles — religious fanaticism and absolutism mixed with discrimination — still carry a modern day punch to the stomach (Chick-Fil-A, anyone?).
The play begins with a group of teenage girls, who, after having been discovered dancing naked in the woods and otherwise acting like, well, teenage girls, are now feigning hysteria and accusing others of witchcraft. The ring leader of the group is the manipulative and chief Mean Girl Abigail Williams (Hannah Miller), who is out for revenge against the Proctor family. It’s revealed that Abigail and John Proctor (Stuart Hughes) had an affair, and though Abigail still carries a torch for the rugged farmer, he has pledged himself faithful to his wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Fagan).
When the second act starts, all hell has broken loose (pun intended), with many townspeople jailed and accused of witchcraft, and the pious Deputy Governor Danforth (Joseph Ziegler) — having been called to Salem to preside over the bewitching mayhem — is now a deadly force to be reckoned with.
Though the play had me spellbound since the first scene when little Betty Parris (Rong Fu) jumps out of her comatose-like state, hysterically screaming, the production really gets going in the second act.
Hughes’ John Procter is a rock star. He’s powerful, he’s strong, he has long hair; the dude’s got swagger. You pay attention to him when he’s on stage — especially during that tearful final scene. Fagan’s Elizabeth, meanwhile, is a quiet source of strength, and equally as mesmerizing during the play’s conclusion. Miller’s Abigail is obnoxious and irritating, which is fitting for the character, but also seemed one-dimensional at times. And, though Nancy Palk’s role as the accused Rebecca Nurse is a small one, she brings amazing gravitas to the pivotal role.
Also, I have to give a shout to Soulpepper on its colour-blind casting; the diverse cast is a refreshing twist on the classic play, while paying homage to our city’s multiculturalism.
I’m still left chilled by the riveting, climatic scene of mock-witchcraft performed by the group of girls in front of the judges and reverends. Ten years ago, I might have been beguiled by the play’s magical history, but now I’m just excited to see really, really good theatre.
The Crucible, Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, 416-866-8666. Runs until Sept. 22.