Arthur Miller’s The Crucible directed by Julianne Boyd – a Triumph for the Barrington Stage Company

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Starla Benford, Jessica Griffin and Fletcher McTaggart in the Crucible. Photo Kevin Sprague.
Starla Benford, Jessica Griffin and Fletcher McTaggart in the Crucible. Photo Kevin Sprague.

The Crucible
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Julianne Boyd
October 6, 2010 – October 24, 2010

Glenn Barrett
Starla Benford
Edward Cating
Rosalind Cramer
Maggie Donnelly
Jessica Griffin
Betsy Hogg
Christopher Innvar
Jeffrey Kent
Caroline Mack
Fletcher McTaggart
Matt Neely
Peter Samuel
Gabrielle Smachetti
Gordon Stanley
Kim Stauffer
Peggy Pharr Wilson
Robert Zukerman

Creative Team:
Julianne Boyd – Director
David M. Barber
Brad Berridge
Kristina Lucka
Renee Lutz
Scott Pinkney
Kristina Sneshkoff

The Barrington Stage Company excels in several different areas — modern classics, musicals, and brainy little contemporary plays — and is plagued only by one persistent flaw, the policy of using excessive amplification even in the diminutive Stage 2 theatre. Fortunately, that was absent in this performance, and all I have to talk about is theatre.

Actually, quite a lot of amplified, recorded racket — much too loud — started off the the play, but the recorded voice of Reverend Parris’ prayin faded into the direct speech from the stage. After that, no monkey business…none of any kind, in fact: the principle virtue of Julianne Boyd’s production was its directness and honesty. She adopted quite a fast tempo throughout the performance, and in the beginning it even seemed a mite breathless. Initially I thought that Peter Samuel rushed a bit too much and could have inflected his lines with more emphasis and variety of pace. I also thought Jessica Griffin sped through her first scenes as Abigail Williams, missing a good many nooks and byways of her complex, devious character, above all, any tangible sensuality in her flirtatiousness. Likewise, I found myself a bit puzzled by Kim Stauffer’s interpretation of Elizabeth Proctor. It seemed as if she could not overcome her very fine and notably sensuous features to show us a frigid wife on stage, but of course this frigidity was recent, the result of illness and her husband’s single infidelity. They had already produced four boys, of course. While I began thinking that these and other portrayals were limited, I understood soon enough what Boyd and her actors were aiming at: straightforward ensemble acting, which steered clear of any distractions from the quality and import of Arthur Miller’s text. Everyone’s respect for the play was exemplary. At the beginning restraint was in order — and these are inexpressive New Englanders after all — leaving plenty of room for the mounting climaxes of Miller’s individual acts and the play as a whole.

In The Crucible Arthur Miller created a play with a large cast of vividly differentiated characters, and the actors I have already mentioned, and pretty much everyone else were equal to this arduous taks. Especially strong performances came from Rosalind Cramer as Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Good, Fletcher McTaggart as Reverend John Hale, Edward Cating as Judge Hathorne, Glenn Barrett as Francis Nurse, Gordon Stanley as Giles Corey, and of course BSC regular Christopher Innvar as John Proctor. Robert Zukerman gave us a masterful performance as Deputy Governor Danforth, ranting and hissing in fine villainous form in a received pronunciation which barely existed in the 1690’s, but no matter the accent and the actor made their point. Starla Benford was brilliant as Tituba. Her final scene was expressive, imaginative, and deeply moving. And special praise for Gabrielle Smachetti, who was absolutely perfect as the youngest of the errant girls, looking like a bewildered, overgrown infant during the court scene.

At the Barrington Stage Company one is never disappointed in the physical realization of the productions. Sets and costumes are, in my experience at least, handsome, full of detail, and perfectly rendered, with just the right amount of wear and aging. The Crucible set was brilliant, I thought, with an evocative frame, including a bit of landscape from the main set, which showed interiors, within a barn-like structure, open-ended on a landscape of desolate seacoast reeds and pine trees. The look and mood of the eastern shore of our Commonwealth was most evocatively captured.

The Crucible, Act III. Photo Kevin Sprague.
The Crucible, Act III. Photo Kevin Sprague.

I came away with a better opinion of Miller’s play than ever before. His grasp of the speech of coastal Massachusetts in the late 1600’s seems a little fudged, but it is convincing enough, and the Barrington actors carried it off, if a trifle inconsistently. Moments like farmer John’s quotation of Nietzsche (“God is dead”) are oh, so very ‘fifties New York. Christopher Innvar deserves much credit for his bold delivery of the line, and there was not one titter from the audience. Still Miller succeeded very effectively in bridging the gap between a convincing and absorbing portrayal of a small community in the distant past and a powerful statement of his own concerns in contemporary issues, with relatively few jarring anachronisms. As the play came to its wrenching conclusion, there was no doubt that it had hit home,as powerful today as it was in 1953.

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