BWW Reviews: Lost Nation's THE CRUCIBLE is Frightening and Powerful
Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE is now playing at Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier, VT. Based on actual people and events surrounding the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693, Miller's play examines social paranoia and judicial power, themes that struck a particularly strong chord in the era of McCarthyism, and continue to be relevant in today's security-obsessed climate. Despite mixed reviews from critics on its first Broadway run in 1953, the play won the Tony Award for Best Play, and earned Beatrice Straight a Best Featured Actress Tony Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor. Four subsequent Broadway revivals (including a star-studded 2002 production featuring Liam Neeson and Laura Linney) have cemented THE CRUCIBLE as an American classic.
The terror that swept the small puritan town of Salem, MA is brought chillingly to life in Lost Nation Theater's production. When Reverend Parris (G. Richard Ames) discovers his 10-year-old daughter Betty (Karli Robertson) and his 17-year-old niece Abigail Williams (Katelyn Manfre) performing a distinctly non-Christian ritual with Tituba, his slave from Barbados (Meredith A. Watson), he fears that accusations of witchcraft could tarnish his reputation. When Betty becomes ill, Parris calls in the Reverend Hale (Scott Renzoni), a self-proclaimed expert in paranormal phenomena. Under Hale's interrogation, Abigail claims that she and Betty were bewitched by Tituba, an accusation that will surely cause Tituba to be hanged. When offered a pardon in exchange for information about other "witches" and a promise to return to a Christian life, Tituba claims to have been approached by the devil on numerous occasions. She names several townswomen whom she says she has observed in the company of the devil. Abigail chimes in with additional names, setting in motion the mad witch hunt that decimates the town of Salem, and ultimately forces John Proctor (Paul Riopelle) to face an unimaginable choice.
Abigail Williams is one of the most coveted (and complicated) female villain roles in classic American drama. At first the innocent victim, Abigail is soon revealed as the manipulative leader of easily-influenced teenage girls, and finally, a near-sociopath with a personal vendetta against the well-respected John and Elizabeth Proctor (Kathleen Keenan). Manfre rises beautifully to the challenge, despite the fact that the playwright has given her comparatively little stage time.
Particularly notable in this production are Riopelle and Keenan's portrayals of John and Elizabeth Proctor. A well-respected couple, the Proctors have a terrible secret that's forced into the light by Abigail's actions. Riopelle's portrayal of a man struggling to find a way out of an un-winnable situation is riveting, and Keenan brings an undercurrent of anguish to Elizabeth Proctor's stoic surface that's truly heart-wrenching.
The Reverend Hale, though one of the initial instigators of the witch hunt, is the first to recognize that Abigail is not the victim she pretends to be. Portraying Reverend Hale's journey from a pompous destroyer of the devil's work to a man humbled by the horrors he helped bring about is no small task. Renzoni accomplishes it with a conviction that makes for a charismatic performance throughout.
Mary Warren (Carolyn Wesley) is the one young woman who tries to break free of Abigail's grip, and Wesley brings to the role a palpable fear and a desire to do the right thing that fit this character perfectly. Kim Allen Bent is wonderfully sanctimonious as Deputy Governor Danforth, Ira Sargent's Thomas Putnam is the perfect money-hungry opportunist, and Ames' Reverend Parris has just the right amount of self-interest masked by a veneer of piety.
There's not one weak performer in this ensemble, and the cast clearly benefited from excellent direction by Brett Gamboa. The sparse set is particularly effective, and the decision to stage this production in the round was a good one. Lost Nation Theater's THE CRUCIBLE is intense, real, and not to be missed.
THE CRUCIBLE plays at Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier, VT through October 27, 2013. For tickets and information, visit LostNationTheater.org.
Image by Lost Nation Theater.