BWW Review: Theatre Baton Rouge Stages Striking Production of Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE
Theatre Baton Rouge's masterful production of THE CRUCIBLE is must-see theater. For those of you who may shy away from seeing a production after studying the script one too many times in high school, here is your chance to see it the way it was meant to be seen.
Exceptionally well cast and directed, TBR's production proves that Miller wrote a play for the ages. Written in 1953, Miller compared the accusations of witchcraft in the Puritan town of Salem with the persecution of Americans suspected as communists in the mid-20th century. Replace witchcraft with any number of issues, from Jewish prosecution in the past to immigrants seeking asylum today, the social relevance in Miller's work is still clear while still proving entertaining as high drama.
Under the vision of director George Judy, this version of THE CRUCIBLE dissects the messy human relationships that are constantly at play in the town of Salem leading right up to the infamous witch trials. Rather than putting the sole focus on the trial of John Proctor, TBR's CRUCIBLE lays to bare the problems of neighbor turning against neighbor. Jealousy and feuding are rampant, making this production of THE CRUCIBLE a striking cautionary tale.
THE CRUCIBLE begins with a vision of young girls dancing in the woods, something that is forbidden in the Puritan community, while also performing rituals that leave Puritan eyewitnesses aghast at their behavior. It all culminates to the girls accusing dozens of Salem residents of practicing witchcraft to protect themselves. The girls are led by Abigail Williams (Caroline Feduccia), who is in love with farmer John Proctor (Kenneth Mayfield) with whom she had an affair. So in love with Proctor, Abigail is willing to do what it takes to have him, even if it means sending his wife (Jenny Ballard-Mayfield) to the hangman's noose.
Mayfield's performance as John Proctor is powerful as it is humane. Where in the past actors who have played as Proctor dominate the scenes with their presence, Mayfield's performance is one that chews the scenery without having to command attention by shouting to the rooftops. His guilt fuels his determination to protect his wife and ultimately, his name when events turn bleak.
Sharing the stage with Mayfield is Ballard, who shares a tender chemistry with Proctor that brings a heart to the show. Ballard's Elizabeth starts as a not-so-quietly suffering wife, but she evolves to be steadfast, and warm in a finely tuned performance that weaves its kind of magic spell. Add Feduccia's manipulative portrayal of morally vacuous Abigail and you have a sizzling love triangle.
There are other noteworthy performances aside from the big three, Tony Medlin as Proctor's neighbor and friend, Giles Corey, is a delightful character who steals the scenes he is in with witty quips, even managing to get one last laugh at the mention of his death. As Rebecca Nurse, Nancy Litton portrays the kindness and compassion her historical character was said to have possessed. Makalyee Seacrest as Proctor's conflicted servant Mary Warren is someone who only wants to right her wrongs after becoming a Puritan girl gone wild. John Fletcher plays the Reverend Hale as quite well-meaning, though initially blinded by his faith's doctrine.
The stripped-down choice for staging the production easily allows the actors' movement and emotion to tell the story and satisfyingly engage the audience. The raw scenic design, costume palette, and lighting and sound design decisions mirrored Salem of old, while still allowing the designers to create something that felt new. The use of mist was also a nice effect, giving an almost otherworldly feel.
TBR took an oft-performed script and made it its own with new surprises while keeping true to the message of Miller's work. Sometimes the dialogue can feel dry, but the cast worked masterfully to keep the pace moving and bringing more life into the show by finding the comedic moments (yes, they exist), making for a wildly engaging show.
THE CRUCIBLE is playing at TBR now through Sunday, Oct. 6th.