‘The Crucible’ succeeds in its difficult test
Special to Prospector
With “The Crucible,” LeGacy Productions has taken on a difficult and major play and has done quite a good job. Encompassing a cast of 20, many new to LeGacy, the actors portray stark lessons in truth, moral character, intolerance and paranoia.
Literally, a crucible is a vessel used for very hot processes, like fusing metals. But the word also means a very significant and difficult trial or test, which is what this play portrays.
This is one of playwright Arthur Miller’s key writings, a depiction of the hysteria surrounding the 1692 Salem witch trials.
The play debuted in 1953 during the similar hysteria of the McCarthy anti-communist purges and has many analogous situations — in both time periods, people were unjustly accused of wrongdoing and then forced to name others as wrongdoers. McCarthy’s paranoid hunt for communist infiltrators was notoriously problematic for writers and entertainers in Hollywood, including Miller.
Many were labeled communist sympathizers and were unable to continue working; a total of 320 artists were blacklisted.
Similarly, during the Salem witch trials, more than 200 people were unjustly accused of witchcraft, many were imprisoned and 19 were hanged.
However, the play is neither a faithful rendering of the Salem witch trials (Miller took much artistic license with the history), nor a perfect allegory for anti-communism, but is a powerful and timeless depiction of how intolerance and hysteria can intersect and tear a community apart.
Even today, as various groups put forth that their practice of religion is the only correct practice and all others are wrong, the play is a good illustration of current prejudice and ostracism.
This production’s set, costumes, props and lighting all nicely contribute to the perception that the existence of the denizens of Salem was basic and monotone — the drab colors and simple design of the wooden set, period costumes and simple furniture indicate a sameness of place and person.
But underneath that uniformity, and with Sue LeGate’s apt direction, the actors are well able to bring out the variations and color underlying their characters — whether evil, misguided or virtuous.
There are multitudes of feelings and meaningful interactions depicted, and the actors do a good job of portraying each individual’s nature.
However, a lot of the action and emotion is illustrated by yelling — certainly there is something to yell about in the upsetting events portrayed. but, at times, passions might have been more subtly shown by clenched fists or gritted teeth rather than raised voices.
There have been many instances in American history that are painful to consider — the Salem witch trials, McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt and current religious intolerance included.
But they are necessary to remember, lest we forget that people aren’t always virtuous and justice isn’t always just.
Because good theater shouldn’t only entertain, but also address important issues, LeGacy’s production of “The Crucible” is a potent and nicely done reminder of that reality. You’ll leave the theater with much to think about. The play continues at the Nevada Theatre through Oct. 11.
Hindi Greenberg likes when theater companies take on substantive plays which deal with real issues presented in compelling productions (although she likes funny and musical plays, also). Actually, she likes most theater and Nevada County fortunately has more than its share!
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