Review Roundup: THE CRUCIBLE Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

By: Mar. 31, 2016
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The Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, starring Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan, opens tonight, March 31, at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48 Street.

In addition to Ronan, the cast of 18, directed by Ivo van Hove, stars Ben Whishaw (as John Proctor), Sophie Okonedo (as Elizabeth Proctor), Ciarán Hinds (as Deputy-Governor Danforth), Bill Camp (as Reverend John Hale), Jim Norton (as Giles Corey), Tavi Gevinson (as Mary Warren), andJason Butler Harner (as Reverend Samuel Parris), and features Tina Benko (as Ann Putnam/Sarah Goode), Teagle Bougere (as Judge Hawthorne), Michael Braun (as Ezekiel Cheever), Jenny Jules (as Tituba), Thomas Jay Ryan (as Thomas Putnam), Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut (as Susanna Walcott), Elizabeth Teeter (as Betty Parris), Ray Anthony Thomas (as Francis Nurse), Brenda Wehle (as Rebecca Nurse), and Erin Wilhelmi (as Mercy Lewis).

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: The director Ivo van Hove and a dazzling international cast...have plumbed the raw terror in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"...And an endlessly revived historical drama from 1953 suddenly feels like the freshest, scariest play in town...Parallels between Miller's then and latter-day nows have never been hard to reach for. What makes Mr. van Hove's interpretation so unsettlingly vivid has little to do with literal-minded topicality. Instead...Mr. van Hove divests a historical work of period associations, the better to see its inhabitants as timelessly tragic and as close to you and me as the people in the seats next to us -- or, if we're honest, as our fallible selves. And more than any of the many "Crucibles" I've seen, this one insists that we identify with not only the victims of persecution but also with those who would judge them.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Posters for the new Broadway revival of "The Crucible" feature a photo of Saoirse Ronan, looking absolutely witchy as Abigail Williams. She's awfully good in it, but the real sorcery is delivered by Ben Whishaw. The English actor is astounding in Arthur Miller's classic tale about the Salem witch trials. He plays doomed farmer John Proctor and holds nothing back, going from slightly arrogant to flustered to full-out broken over the course of the play, a master stroke by a 35-year-old making his Broadway debut. The more uneven, lacking the singular, brilliant focus of van Hove's earlier revival this season...

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: There's bound to be head-scratching over Ivo van Hove's peculiar Broadway production of "The Crucible," Arthur Miller's towering 1953 drama about the infamous 17th-century Salem witch trials - and so much more. The ensemble, led by Ben Whishaw, Sophie Okonedo, Ciaran Hinds, and Saoirse Ronan, is superb, and the play sustains its power to shock and thrill. But the directorial concept is baffling. In stripping down the context of "A View from the Bridge" earlier this season, van Hove did a brilliant job of isolating and illuminating the internal battle waged by its tormented hero to save his own soul. "The Crucible" resists that treatment. It's too big, too complex, too philosophical to deconstruct and reduce to its "essence."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Almost operatic in their intensity, [Van Hove's] productions are designed to leave audiences agitated and uncomfortable, which is notably the case with this distressing 1953 drama, with its steadily amplified sense of horror and indignation...the mesmerizingly acted new production trades the play's specific period and milieu...for a pared-down look and non-naturalistic, indeterminate setting...the production presents a chilling account of the institutional arrogance and ignorance that are a threat to civil liberties in any age, particularly when the dividing lines separating politics, religion and the judiciary become blurred...The face of this production is Saoirse Ronan, icy and commanding in her first stage appearance...As strong as the ensemble is, the indispensable anchoring forces are Whishaw and Okonedo, both of them devastating.

David Cote, Time Out NY: There are two types of audience members attending Ivo van Hove's The Crucible: those who take their seats and, when the curtain rises, wonder, Why's it set in a classroom? and the other half (please let it be more than half) that nods and thinks, Of course it's in a classroom. Van Hove's electrifying and audacious staging achieves what more revivals should: It makes old work seem new, blows away the dust and exposes caulked cracks...Miller's masterpiece, still a model of post-Ibsenite drama, holds up: Society is forever torn between preserving its power structures and extending freedoms. Those caught in the middle pay the highest price...the cast is ridiculously stuffed with talent...The country beyond the walls of the Walter Kerr may be damned, but inside, Van Hove is wrestling with the angels.

Linda Winer, Newsday: ...despite the sprawling locations of Miller's story, all the action feels unforced into one big country schoolroom...Ronan -- blond, unbridled and unrecognizable from the gentle brunette in her Oscar-nominated film, "Brooklyn" -- plays Abigail with the duplicity of a malevolent surfer-girl. Whishaw, as good-but-flawed John Proctor, is more low-key and less heroic than was Liam Neeson in the 2002 revival. Okonedo is quietly forceful -- and ultimately heartbreaking -- as John's wife, accused of witchcraft so Abigail can get her husband, and Hinds is aptly imperious as the pious, self-serving deputy-governor...Although van Hove resists even a hint of cheap contemporary resonance, the village characters in their everyday work clothes connect the dots for us. This is not to suggest that van Hove resists a few outrageous and entertaining touches of the hyper-theatrical.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: At a time when smearing a neighbor or movie star or rival presidential candidate can be as easy as hitting "send," it's especially troubling to watch riled-up teenagers and self-centered adults point such destructive fingers with impunity...Perhaps because Crucible invokes the supernatural, the staging seems less mannered than van Hove's take on Miller's A View From the Bridge last fall -- but not much...the excellent actors help ensure that Miller's dialogue is never overshadowed...Whishaw's beautifully shaded tenderness and fury also contrasts with the repressed desperation Ronan brings to her role. Alternately cool and rash, her Abigail is more wounded child than calculating homewrecker.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: It's amazing how much damage Ivo van Hove, the most pretentious stage director of our time, can do to a good play when he puts his mind to he's attacked "The Crucible" with a steamroller, turning Miller's 1953 history play about the Salem witch trials into a slow-moving study in extreme tedium. Directorial miscalculations abound, starting with the setting, a two-story-high classroom/prison designed by Jan Versweyveld in whose vast gray expanses the actors roam around ineffectually...Bill Camp, Sophie Okonedo and Brenda Wehle manage to make strong impressions in spite of everything -- but Ciarán Hinds and Saoirse Ronan give Johnny-One-Note performances that are as paralyzingly minimal as Philip Glass's incidental music.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Ronan is convincing as chief mean girl Abigail Williams, with her mouth set in a hard line and her eyes narrowed. I liked her performance, but didn't necessarily see Abigail as someone capable of whipping up the frenzy relied on in "The Crucible"...While I'm confident Miller believed in the power of mankind to manipulate and be manipulated, I'm rather sure his "witch hunt" was metaphorical. Theatrical flourishes here -- girls suspended in mid-air, windstorms, what appears to be a wolf wandering alone on stage -- suggest van Hove prefers it an open-ended question. That added an unanticipated layer to the nearly three-hour proceedings.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Good things come to those who wait. Remember that. Because it takes a long time for Broadway's star-studded revival of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" to cast a spell. In the end, it does. The final 15 minutes of this play, set amid the Salem witch trials, are built to be shattering and heart-wrenching...Innovative Belgian director Ivo van Hove's staging wrings out every devastating drop of power. As for the preceding 135 minutes - not so much. The drama is packed with ideas about truth and power. But as played here, it's high on talk, but stubbornly low on impact. Most notably, marquee names - Soairse Ronan, Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo - don't make deep impressions.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: But what has theatergoers talking is the show's paranormal activity. The Belgian van Hove doesn't seem to have gotten the memo about how Miller wasn't writing about Satan but the Communist witch hunt of the '50s. In his version, a girl levitates off her bed, a gust of wind upends a classroom and mysterious scribbles appear on a blackboard. The show tries to have it both ways: As a supernatural spookfest and as a morality tale about mass hysteria and intolerance. You may be mystified, but you won't be bored -- the gorgeous-looking production weaves a creepy spell every minute of its nearly three hours.

Matt Windman, amNY: Ivo van Hove's Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's 1953 Salem witch trial drama/political allegory "The Crucible" is so bewildering that I hardly know where to start. That being said, the production is, more often than not, absorbing and blazing with intensity...More importantly, why does one of the young girls levitate in the air at one point? Why does the set fall apart at a climactic moment? Is van Hove suggesting that the girls really do have supernatural abilities? Or, more likely, is this all just striking but overblown and overindulgent imagery?...These are all great actors, but they achieve uneven results in this twisted environment. Whishaw comes across as too weak and lacks chemistry with the fully aggressive Okonedo. Ronan and Hinds are so assured and terrifying in the predator roles that it's no surprise to see Camp and Harner looking so shaken up and helpless.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Arthur Miller's 1953 drama The Crucible is a big play -- big ideas, big cast, big emotions. In a season of multiple Miller celebrations...Ivo van Hove's lucid and often mesmerizing production at the Walter Kerr Theatre honors all of those big factors without overwhelming us -- unless it's by the sheer impact of a company so right in nearly every detail, from the major roles to those less so...Van Hove and his incomparable troupe -- led by beautifully felt performances from Ben Whishaw (The Danish Girl), Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) and Soairse Ronan (Brooklyn) -- play it straight. I think the impact must be quite similar to that felt by theatergoers 63 years ago.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: ...van Hove knows how to put on a good old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone spectacle, and he makes us believe it. More controversial is his decision to update the play's setting to what appears to be a private girls' school in the not-so-distant past...Gone is almost any trace of puritanical repression as he brings to the fore the lust of adolescent girls, led by Saoirse Ronan's headstrong and determined Abigail Williams. She's naked in her attraction to John Proctor, and the astonishing performance by Ben Whishaw in that role makes her desire entirely understandable. Whishaw delivers a very feral John Proctor, with something of the little-D devil in him...But at the heart of van Hove's direction is what the play is all about: how the perverse convergence of politics, greed, religion, and, yes, sex creates mass hysteria.

Jesse Green, Vulture: And van Hove (working with the choreographer Stephen Hoggett) does wonderful things with his staging...If van Hove's directorial choices generally support and enliven the text, and force us to see it fresh, it's not because he has abandoned his avant-garde armamentarium. This Crucible features plenty of his signature flourishes, some more effective than others...Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo, as the Proctors, give wrenching performances, shorn of vanity, as if the play's message of communal guilt had infected them personally...Saoirse Ronan as Abigail suggests no real excuse for her cold manipulations: She just shines with maleficence.

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: For God's sake -- or maybe the devil's -- don't mess with Abigail. The look of feral resolve in Saoirse Ronan's eyes is so intense that an audience has not a moment's hesitation believing in the havoc at her fingertips in director Ivo van Hove's stunning new Broadway revival of "The Crucible." Her one of the many coups in van Hove's transfixing modern-dress production...The portrayals across the board infuse Arthur Miller's 1953 drama of vengeful mass hysteria with a stomach-knotting urgency that doesn't dissipate until well after the last of the evening's wrenching twists.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: A lone wolf prowls through Salem, Mass., in Ivo van Hove's eye-popping and wholly unconventional revival of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," that great dramatic cautionary tale about the perennial dangers of a rampant theocracy fueled by ignorance and mass hysteria...But van Hove is not so much interested in McCarthyism and history as in tyranny of the more perennial sort; this production feels more attuned to our world of school shooters and suicide bombers than blowhard anti-communists...But in Miller's play, the hysterical girls are the antagonists...With Ronan as his chief asset, and Ciaran Hinds as a relentless political prosecutor, van Hove brilliantly manipulates that counterintuitive aspect of "The Crucible."

Christopher Kelly, Van Hove is nothing if not consistent -- just like "A View from the Bridge," his approach to "The Crucible" is alternately striking, lugubrious, and fruit loopy...Whether van Hove is succeeding in his stated goal of stripping away theatrical conventions and cutting to the heart of classic drama -- or, in fact, is doing the opposite, and serving up a "Crucible" that is affected and artificial -- probably comes down to your personal taste...[Ronan's] Abigail is at once sexually forthright and sadistically righteous; the most nightmarish sorority queen you would never want to cross. As John Proctor, the man who once had an affair with Abigail and who is now suffering the unexpected consequences, the wonderful Ben wholly commanding, even as he rarely raises his voice. He makes deeply palpable both Proctor's mounting outrage and the man's nagging guilt that his own moral weaknesses are what set this disastrous chain of events in motion.

Robert Feldberg, The fire-starter is 17-year-old Abigail Williams (Saoirse Ronan), impelled at least in part by her anger at John Proctor's refusal to resume their brief sexual relationship. That pivotal core of passion isn't given much emphasis. Whishaw underplays for much of the evening, while Ronan - one of Hollywood's current "It" girls following her performance in the film "Brooklyn" - gives a fierce but emotionally opaque performance in her stage debut.

Alexis Soloski, Guardian: Van Hove's production takes place neither in the colonial era, nor in the mid-century one, but in some sort of timeless present where teenage girls wear pleated uniforms and most of the men sport beards. All of the action, public and private, judicial and domestic, plays out in the same space, a somewhat gloomy schoolroom whose chalkboard occasionally bursts into animated life.

David Finkle, Huffington Post: They're in modern dress for all but the final scenes when John Proctor (Ben Whishaw) and wife Elizabeth (Sophie Okonedo) are brought from the jail where they've been mistreated and he's been tortured. They're in rags to confront each other before possibly going to the gallows for denying they've dealt in witchcraft. Moreover, most of the women in the troupe appear in long, straight and usually blond hair, which is today's prominent Jennifer Aniston-popularized coiffeur of choice.

Joe McGovern, Entertainment Weekly: For the sixth time on Broadway, it's the season of the witch. Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, his raw if hyperbolic reenactment of the deadly Salem Witch Trials, struck a nerve when it first premiered in 1953 as a scorching condemnation of the House Un-American Activities Committee, then in the process of uprooting communists via innuendo, scare-mongering, and intimidation. The play's easy-to-understand themes of mob mentality and mass hysteria have made it Miller's most produced work (especially in high schools and colleges), yet in all honesty, the piece is somewhat flat when considered outside the allegory for McCarthyism. As a theatrical experience in 2016, The Crucible needs freshening up.

Photo Credit: Jan Versweyveld

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