THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane). Runs to September 22. $51-$68, stu $32, rush $5-$22. 416-866-8666. soulpepper.ca. See listing. Rating: NNNN
See The Crucible for two reasons: fine performances and superb writing from one of America's greatest playwrights on themes still resonating six decades after the play first appeared on Broadway.
Arthur Miller's play is an extended metaphor for Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee.
The year is 1692, and the Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts, has become obsessed with witchcraft. Just cast suspicion on someone and the authorities haul the alleged consort of the Devil to jail. Confess you've seen Satan and you're free to go, and naming names helps, too. Clam up and you die.
Among those swept up is Elizabeth Proctor (Patricia Fagan), accused by the vengeful young Abigail Williams, who's furious that Elizabeth's husband, John (Stuart Hughes), has ended their affair. Abigail has become the ringleader of a clutch of girls whose hysteria she fuels in order to keep the town's paranoia levels high.
The Crucible's emotional centrepiece is the relationship between guilt-ridden John and his unforgiving wife, both of whom have to make hard choices. Hughes expertly conveys John's deep conflict in a lose-lose situation, and Fagan brings a thrilling warmth and soul to a character usually played with brittle bitterness. Credit director Albert Schultz with making the right call there. But Hannah Miller is out of her depth as Abigail - she lacks heat and isn't believable as someone who could tempt a guy like Proctor.
Productions of this Tony-Award-winning play don't come around too often - strange since as a piece of theatre it's so powerful. Even with all its thee's and thou's, the dialogue is gripping.
The second-act trial scene is a stunner, deftly conveying HUAC's mind-melting logic, the power-mongers who profited from it (Joseph Ziegler as Deputy Governor Danforth has all the right patrician creepiness) and the morally bankrupt toadies, like the Reverend Parris (a gloriously weaselly Derek Boyes), who promoted it.
Lorenzo Savoini's design looks great, too, though I would have had the young girls lose those bonnets when they flip out during the trial. And the hymns, arranged and conducted by actor Mike Ross, that have been added to fill in the scene changes are hauntingly beautiful.
Miller wrote the play after his friend Elia Kazan admitted to him that he was set to cooperate with McCarthy and his legal thugs. That was in 1952. But don't assume that we no longer cave to irrational fears.
No-fly lists, anyone?