Now, I must admit that Arthur Miller's The Crucible, directed by Christopher Johnson, is the first show I have seen at The Rogue Theatre. I sat down, eager to see what the play had in store. I didn't know what to expect since I hadn't watched the movie or read the book, but as this theater is well known in town, I had certain expectations—and they met all of them.
We are in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692. The scene opens with Reverend Paris carrying a limp Betty Paris (portrayed by Christopher Younggren and Flories Rush respectively), who's passed out after being discovered dancing in the middle of the forest. The town whispers of witches. The slightest accusations spark into a rampant fire which inevitably leaves the town scrambling and gasping for common sense and sound evidence. This show is meant to portray how quickly things can get out of hand; it is easy to be carried away by feelings. Hope hangs in the air, out of reach of the innocent. Those in power are too concerned with the preservation of self and will do anything to maintain the integrity of their current social and political standing.
This is not a tech-heavy show. The emphasis is on the dynamic relationships and high-stake issues between the characters. As an ensemble, they all had great energy. They fed off each other's energy and radiated it back to one another. All of them were committed. The technical elements did not detract from that. The lighting was subtle and simple. The music added depth and emotional respite, which I appreciated because there were times when I was overwhelmed by the constant yelling and high energy. The underlying music offered a pleasant escape.
Matt Bowdren (John Proctor) is always a treat to watch on stage. I remember when I first saw him in Othello as Iago at the University of Arizona. I enjoyed watching the interaction between him and Holly Griffith (Elizabeth Proctor). They beautifully captured the delicate condition of their relationship. A woman who is hurt and uncertain of how to move past the pain and learn how to trust a man who is repentant but impatient for forgiveness. They were physically and emotionally distant, but you could feel that there was a yearning for things to be better by the way they looked at and spoke to one another.
Bryn Booth, who portrayed Abigail Williams, was a delight to watch as she masterfully manipulated the other characters around her. I found myself watching her even when she wasn't speaking, curious to see how she'd respond as the tables shifted in and against her favor. And Leah Taylor's Mary Warren is something to behold. Her ability to portray the internal flip-flopping struggle so vividly for us to see was amazing. I hated her character (in a good way), but I understood myself. There was a moment of well-orchestrated possession that gave me goosebumps. The women's shrill and terrifying screams coupled with their ruthless pursuit of Mary almost had me confessing as well. I even snuck several cautious peeks around the theater to make sure there was nothing around me or on the ceiling. You can never be too careful.
I left wishing I had known more about what happened to Tituba, by hearing her side of the story. Brought to life by Carley Elizabeth Preston, her monologue was creepy good, but the content fell flat. What was her truth? Did Abigail coerce her? I feel that Arthur Miller could have further developed her character, but seeing that the story mostly revolves around certain demographic of people, there really isn't room for another perspective. That's too bad.
One does not watch The Crucible to simply pass the time or for a gay evening at the theater. From the moment the play starts, the stakes are high and the actors are committed. The hysteria and chaos in the scenes are palpable. It's no surprise that I could hear the audience gasp and feel them squirm in their seats. We were all aboard the Salem Witch Train racing down a slippery slope without any brakes.
A longer version of this review can be found at tamingofthereview.com, a female-led, local, diverse, and community-oriented collective dedicated to coverage of Tucson theatre.