“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller at ACT

Brilliant! The best production I’ve seen in months! And, no, that’s not hyperbole, but let me put it in perspective. I love Arthur Miller’s work; I love this play; ACT’s production under the direction of John Langs is wonderful, and timely.

Most readers know the story that takes place in Puritan New England. You know—Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, Ann Hutchinson, religious extremism, witch trials. Indeed in the l690s a wave of hysteria afflicted the settlement of Salem, Massachusetts. Teen aged girls claimed to be possessed and began identifying neighbors as witches who were working as the devil’s aides and set on destroying the sanctity of the community. Before sanity was restored 20 people, mostly women, were condemned as witches and hung, and, in at least one case, pressed to death by heavy stones. And not surprisingly, some of their most vociferous neighbor/accusers benefited from their demise?

Miller’s play was written and produced during the McCarthy era, a time when the Senator from Wisconsin carried out a witch-hunt against supposed communists, the “witches” who were out to destroy our democracy. Colleagues were forced to testify against colleagues. Innuendo, served as proof. Hysteria prevailed. Innocents, fearful of being accused, failed to speak against this insanity. Hundreds of careers were destroyed. Yet in the process, some careers (McCarthy’s and Roy Cohn’s for example) were enhanced and personal agendas were boosted before being brought down.

It’s all here on this stage, a sparse stage designed by Matthew Smucker that works wonderfully to enhance the story. The cast is an all-star extravaganza. Director Langs has involved many of the most highly regarded actors in the city. There’s Paul Morgan Stetler as John Proctor, the voice of reason in a society gone mad. Anne Allgood, Kurt Beattie, William Hall, Jr., Michael Patten, Marianne Owen, MJ Sieber, Ray Tagavilla and many others whose names you would recognize all offer fine performances.

The special richness of this production is achieved, in good part, by these subtle yet emotionally taught performances. Stetler’s John Proctor is a flawed man of conscience. The intensity of his internal struggles is mesmerizing. Avery Clark and MJ Sieber as the self-satisfied champions of the lord make one squirm. Khanh Doan as Mrs. Proctor creates a victim for whom we must weep. And so it goes, a cast without a single weak member.

This is a play that has been periodically revived as existing social and political circumstances in the United States make it particularly relevant. I would say its messages are always worth remembering, and when the production is as good as this one is, it shouldn’t be missed.

Through Nov. 12 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, 206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.

Leave a Reply