Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" is at the IU Theatre in a dramatically staged production directed by Fontaine Syer. I. Chrisopher Berg’s set offers a bare raked stage in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre. It is surrounded by ominously dark, black framed, two story stalls with a black clad choir of witnesses.
Miller’s drama is of a community gone wild with notions that witchcraft is about and the devil on the move. The discovery of a young woman leading a group of girls in conjuring, along with the almost evenly suspect dancing, sparks a witch hunt. It’s investigation through the theocracy of Salem, quickly moves from larger questions and becomes an arena for local revenges and the settling up of even petty grievances.
At the murky center of "The Crucible" is the triangle of the servant girl Abigail Williams, John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth. Abigail played by Jessica Rothert has had an affair with the rigidly upright John Proctor, John Armstrong, and upon the discovery been dismissed by his even more rigidly upright wife, Elizabeth, Lilia Vassileva. It’s Abigail who led the wild girls as she sought to conjure the death of Elizabeth that she might take her place with John. As the investigation into what is mostly minor silliness balloons, paranoia begins to take hold, first of the local community leaders and then the general populace.
Conducting the investigations are the initially eager expert in demonology, Reverend John Hale and the judge, Deputy-Governor Danforth. As Hale investigates he comes to believe in the innocence of the Proctors and the duplicity of Abigail. Danforth with the stiffness of dictum that one must be "…either with this court or he must be against it…" remains adamant. In the IU production of "The Crucible" guest Dan Kramer played Danforth as indeed plenty rigid, but with variety in his responses. Nick Arapoglou as Hale was a welcome island of calm in many otherwise confused scenes, but his Hale was not a fair match for Kramer’s Danforth.
The final scene as John Proctor decides to hang rather than confess to a lie is complicated. First he’s just stubborn, then he wants his life more than his pride, then the meaning of his own life is wrapped up his honesty. Finally Proctor’s concern extends to the community as he realizes that if he confesses it will be damning for others. Even on the page it’s twistingly hard to follow and there’s little that an actor can do physically. The surprising reconciliation with his wife doesn’t help. It’s a credit to actor John Armstrong that he kept this largely internal drama moving.
Among the Salem townspeople Lauren Steffan radiated goodness and solidity as the innocent Rebecca Nurse. Tom Conner was solid as the righteous farmer Giles Corey. Justine Salata as Mary Warren, the one of the girls who seeks to tell the truth of Abigail’s duplicitous leadership was fascinating.
The IU production began slowly. It took a while for the opening scene to settle down and hearing dialog was difficult. However, it built and it was only when the first act ended that I realized how involved I had become. The second act is more a series of vignettes. I think that Miller has made it hard for a company to keep a flow and rhythmn in the action. It’s to the credit of the direction and the actors that most of the time they succeeded.
The IU Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" continues with 7:30 performances each night through Saturday.
You can find an interview with John Armstrong and Dan Kramer on our Arts Interviews page .