by Terrance Mc Arthur
A crucible is a container for melting and mixing metals. The Crucible is a play by Arthur Miller about the Salem Witch Trials, taking characters and putting them through heat and pressure. Selma Underground Productions have brought this drama to the Selma Arts Center Stage (1935 High Street) through October 25.
Miller’s 1953 play (altered for a 2002 Liam Neeson production) uses the Massachusetts hysteria of 1692-3 as a commentary on the Red Scare/McCarthyism/blacklists of the era, and some of the issues are still relevant in today’s world.
When young girls are caught dancing and running naked in the woods with a slave, they begin to accuse people in the town of being witches, which is accepted as truth. The jails fill with suspects who were sent there by land disputes, jealousy, old grudges, and spite. Abigail Williams (Christina Robles), a leader of the group of children, given authority by the court, calls Elizabeth Proctor (Kami Hinds) a witch in revenge for having been discharged as a servant because she had an affair with John Proctor (Caleb Robbins). John wants to do the right thing and call Abigail a liar, but the witch hunt fever has gone beyond control, and the truth is looked upon as a sign of guilt.
The set is dark and looming, washed in red light. A rustic cross is glimpsed through a high window, a reminder of the constant presence of religion in the lives of the characters. The stage is extended out into the audience with rough-finished boards. The costumes are austere, with no attempt at historical accuracy, looking more Amish than Puritan, but this emphasizes the universality of the play. Some of director Juan L. Guzman’s staging blocks off some of the action, but there are times that the confusion reflects the emotional subtext of a town where reason has been replaced by superstition and emotion.
Robbins, as John Proctor, is a strong center for the action of the play, walking in the footsteps of Arthur Kennedy, Yves Montand, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Liam Neeson. He performs with a dignity and intensity beyond his years. Hinds is tall and graceful, Modigliani-esque, with a gentle lilt to her voice that adds to the tragedy and tension in her household. Robles is seductively repulsive as the teen-witch wannabe and 17th-century mean girl who strikes out at her enemies with the only weapon her society gives her: accusations of witchcraft; she would have made a great cyber-bully.
Gary Gould, as Giles Corey, is a stand-out as the old farmer whose past court dealings make him the only person who could outwit the laws of the trials. Doug Cox is impressive as Dr. John Hale, who comes to doubt his own part in the witch hunt. Rick Robbins and Brandon Cleveland, as members of the court, are rock-ribbed and menacing.
“The Crucible” is a disturbing look at our world through the windows of the past.
Remaining evening performances on October 23, 24, 25 are at 7 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on October 25. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Call (559) 891-2238 or contact tickettomato.com.
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