The Crucible at Gallatin MainStage

by Dannie Giglevitch

  Photo by Tessa Keough

Photo by Tessa Keough

 

For The Crucible to work the way it is meant to, there must be a suspension of disbelief. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible can only work under a situation where it is wholeheartedly believed that there is some evil force in Salem, Massachusetts. The audience must suspend their disbelief—coming from wherever they have come before the first act—that witchcraft exists in the world being built on stage. Likewise, the actors must suspend their own disbelief about the reality of witchcraft in order to build their characters. The story of The Crucible is built on fear and paranoia; it creates both at the same time and feeds itself on them. Evil, in the case of The Crucible and any individual’s perspective on it, is subjective. What is the source of evil—is it the accused among the Salem townspeople, who truly are witches? Is it Abigail Williams, perpetuating paranoia throughout the entire town just to satisfy her own petty grudge against Elizabeth Proctor? Is it the judicial incompetence of the theocratic court? It could be one of these things, or all of these things, but one thing must be certain: evil is real and it exists in the time and place of The Crucible, wherever and whenever that may be.

In Theatre at Gallatin’s production, as should be the case in all productions, the time and place of The Crucible is ambiguous. The action of the play is universal. Their Salem is 1692 Salem; it is Miller’s own 1950’s America laden with the socio-political weight of McCarthyism; and it is our very own here and now. Miller wrote The Crucible as a clear allegory to McCarthyism, which eventually led to his personal involvement in the McCarthyism witch hunt. When summoned in court, Miller refused to name names—being opposed to incriminating others—resulting in him being charged with contempt of court, a fine, prison sentence, being placed on the blacklist, and having his passport revoked. If this rings any bells, it should. We are living in a time of scapegoats again. This time the terms aren’t “witches” and the sentences aren’t hangings; now the terms are things like “immigrants,”, and “refugees,”  “travel bans,” and a laundry list of just about every person, place, and thing that doesn’t look like the people in the White House and Washington.

The staging and costuming of Theatre at Gallatin’s production leave little up for interpretation at the same time that it remains vagueambiguous. The set pieces are sparse: there are few pieces of furniture that are re-arranged and repurposed to create a variety of scenes. The set design leaves out the specifics and leaves most things up to imagination, as if to say “this could be anywhere, anytime, and anyone.” The costume choices strike a similar vein. Gone are the ruffs, bonnets, and stockings we normally associate with Puritan dress, but some traditional clothing remain, like stripped-down minimalist versions of petticoats and doublets. Everyone is more dressed down and minimalistically Puritan, giving more leeway for the audience to understand the unfortunate universality of the play.

Every actor in the cast gave striking performances. As John Proctor, Andrew Goehring displays honest bewilderment at how his friends and neighbors give in so easily to fear-mongering. Sophia Cannata-Bowman plays an insecure and jealous Abigail Williams, who evokes both pity and rage simultaneously. Myka Cue plays an unabashedly tearful Mary Warren, carrying her scenes in her sincerity. It is overwhelmingly clear that every single cast member gave their all, which is no surprise given the amount of rehearsal work that was done. EIt is clear that every actor fully engaged with the text and found their own subjective truths within it, giving the audience an Abigail Williams who fully believed that everything she did was justified, a regretful and sorely mistaken Reverend Hale (Brennan O'Rourke), a torn and overwhelmed Mary Warren, an unrelenting Giles Corey (Fiona Gorry-Hines), a megalomaniac Reverend Parris (Dominique Booth), and a Deputy Governor Danforth (Cheryle Chong) who is more prideful than he is a Christian.

This production effectively turns the Jerry Labowitz Theatre into a courtroom, complete with the audience arranged into opposing sets of bleachers watching the trial like members of a jury. It asks its audience to decide for themselves who is right, and who is wrong and where they draw the line between the two—larger questions that this production it hopes its audience will take outside the walls of the theatre as they leave.

 

Originally published 12/11/17