Review: THE GOOD JOHN PROCTOR at Trinity Repertory Company

This anachronistic, darkly comic prequel to The Crucible is well-performed, but may have varying appeal to audience members.

By: Sep. 14, 2023
Review: THE GOOD JOHN PROCTOR at Trinity Repertory Company

Trinity Repertory Company opens its sixtieth season with two plays performed in rotating repertory, both of which tie into the themes of gender, power, and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The first of those plays is THE GOOD John Proctor, by the Brooklyn-based playwright Talene Monahon.

The play centers around four of the young girls whose names will be familiar to anyone with knowledge of Miller’s play or the actual Salem Witch Trials: Abigail Williams (Deanna Myers), Betty Parris (Rebecca-Anne Whittaker), Mercy Lewis (Lori Vega), and Mary Warren (Rachael Warren). But The Good John Proctor acts as a prequel to The Crucible, reexamining through their own eyes the events that led to the witch trials. The play is anachronistic in language and much of its humor derives from this, which will appeal to some audience members more than others, and the opening night audience certainly enjoyed it. There are also several very dark, even disturbing moments, as the characters describe events they have witnessed or experienced.

As Abigail Williams, Deanna Myers embodies the full arc of the character. We see the character transform from a light-hearted almost-twelve-year-old, blithely playing games with her younger cousin and excited at the prospect of her first job outside the house, to someone who has experienced and seen much that she doesn’t fully understand. The differences in her interactions with both her younger cousin and the older and “cooler” Mercy Lewis accurately reflect the naivety and longing for acceptance that often marks the pre-teen years.

Rebecca-Anne Whittaker captures the precociousness of nine-year old Betty Parris. One of the funniest aspects of this character is the affection she has for their goat Abraham, which will ring true to anyone who doted on a particular animal as a child. For all of her childlike qualities, she is tasked with one of the more graphic monologues in the play, describing a miscarriage she witnessed but was too young to understand – and one particular impression that left on her. Whittaker handles both aspects of this character with aplomb.

Lori Vega holds nothing back in her portrayal of Mercy Lewis, alternating between swagger and paranoia, often with a bottle of cider at hand. It is she who first brings up possession by a witch as a possibility, often lamenting the presence of Lucifer in town and much worse things have become since she – a mere teenager herself – was younger. We watch her transition to an adult version of Mercy later in the play, many years after the witch trials, when she explains, both to an adult Betty and to the audience her very specific reason for why she felt the way she did. While Vega nails the character’s transition from a place of rowdiness and outward coolness to a woman with a better sense of understanding, there is more to be said about what the play chooses to convey at this moment.

Finally, long time resident company member Rachael Warren clambers onto the stage as Mary Warren, the orphaned epileptic “oldest child” at all of eighteen years old. Her worldliness and familiarity with the off-limits woods makes her all the more intriguing, especially to Betty. Warren (Rachael, not Mary), deftly handles an interesting scene towards the end of the show, expounding on what happens to Mary after her life is over. It becomes quite meta, but is one of the most intriguing sections of the show.

The staging within Trinity’s Dowling Theater is simple upon first glance – just dark wooden boards, with a staircase and a vertical beam on either side of the set. However, the hidden spaces within the stage and the set itself, along with the use of lighting to convey the dark, forbidden aspect of the woods, are both clever and effective.  The sound design by Joanna Lynne Staub is especially good, with random, unplaceable noises, voices, and distant screams often interrupting the action, making the audience feel the unease of hearing such things on a dark 17th century night in the woods.

While there is a lot to like about Trinity’s production of The Good John Proctor, the play itself raises some questions. As mentioned, it is made clear that this play is a response to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which portrays the relationship between Abigail Williams (made seventeen years old in Miller’s play) and John Proctor (aged down to thirty, rather than the sixty years old he was in actuality), as one where she seduced him. It makes sense that one would want to de-romanticize that relationship, which The Good John Proctor very much accomplishes. However, the historical truth beyond both plays is entirely different. According to the Salem Witch Museum, “Proctor was 60, Williams was 11, and the two may have not known each other at all before the hysteria escalated. One needs to separate fact from fiction, and try to discover the real man as revealed in the remaining trial records, and not confuse him with the romantic character from Miller’s play.”

In the actual atrocity that was the Salem Witch Trials, Proctor was a victim of mass hysteria, accused of being a witch by peers and hanged to death. His family was then stripped of all possessions and their names were besmirched for centuries. Why level more false charges on this very real historical figure? Another example is George Burroughs, also a real person who was falsely accused of witchcraft and hanged in 1692. In Monahan’s play he is described as being guilty of extremely heinous actions against children, for which there is no historical or fictional precedent. While this is used to illustrate one of the play’s themes, during a time where a large segment of our country is too ready to point fingers and falsely accuse marginalized people for crimes they are in no way guilty of, it does not sit well to see this being done even in a fictional context.

The Good John Proctor runs September 15th, and then September 28th – November 12th in Trinity Rep's Dowling Theater, 201 Washington St., Providence, RI. For tickets and further information about special performances, including Neighborhood Nights, Open Caption performances, and a Sensory-Friendly performance, call (401) 351-4242 or visit Click Here

Pictured: Lori Vega as Mercy, Deanna Myers as Abigail, and Rebecca-Anne Whittaker as Betty. Photo by Mark Turek.


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