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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
The present production at the Hartford Stage, directed by Gordon Edelstein, the 2011-2012 Katherine Knowlton McLane Director of Classics for Hartford Stage and Artistic Director of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, is a stunning reminder of the power a play can wield.
Miller's dramatization of the horrific Witchcraft Trials held in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 1693, became an allegory for McCarthyism. However, it was not until 1956 that Miller, himself, was subpoenaed by House Un-American Activities Committee and asked to identify writers with Communist sympathies. He refused and was convicted of contempt of Congress; but the following year, the conviction was overturned.
Miller's motivation to write this play can be found in the introduction to the play published by the Viking Press in 2003: “I had known this story since my college years and I’d never understood why it was so attractive to me. Now it suddenly made sense. . .the hysteria in Salem had a certain inner procedure, which we duplicating once again…and that perhaps by revealing the nature of that procedure some light could be thrown on what we were doing to ourselves. . .” Also in what he wrote in an October 1996 New Yorker article: “The more I read into the Salem panic, the more it touched off corresponding images of common experiences in the fifties: i.e. the old friend of a blacklisted person crossing the street to avoid being seen talking to him. . .The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.”
Now, to Edelstein’s credit, these incredible life and death historical events, which tested the mettle of ordinary women, children and men accused of consorting with the devil, seems to relate as much if not even more to present day political shenanigans and skullduggery. This is seen and felt particularly in the second act, where the motto printed boldly over the door leading to the courtroom reads: "Either You Are With Us- or You Are Terrorists."
Led by Michael Laurence, a grainy, authentic Jon Proctor and featuring the reliable Sam Tsoutsouvas as the unbending Deputy Governor Danforth, the large 27 member cast, costumed in country clothes by Ilona Somogyi, is superb. The opening scene is startling: High above Eugene Lee’s icy black spare set lit by Michael Chybowski’s frame of fluorescent tubes is a forest of greenery. There, running wild, dancing and screaming, are scantily–dressed girls, some played by Hartt School, University of Hartford students. Leading them is Tituba (C. Zakiah Barksdale), a slave from Barbados, who claims she can make magic.
Also in the group are Abigail Williams, played with crystal clarity by Rachel Mewbron; she has had an affair with the man she works for, John Proctor, and would like to see his wife, Elizabeth, the elegant Kate Forbes, dead; and Lili Jacobs’ Betty Parris, who has fallen into a coma. Betty’s uncle, the disliked Reverend Samuel Parris, acted by Tom Beckett, who won top Outer Critic and Drama Desk Awards for Travels with My Aunt, is beside himself and calls in witchcraft expert Reverend Hale- well-portrayed by David Barlow.
Fear spreads through the whole town. Innocent people, several named Goody, are dragged from their homes into courts ruled by supercilious judges, condemned to die by lying witnesses if they don’t recant their sins. The Proctors, farmers and parents of three young sons, are drawn into this morass by Abigail. Their ultimate struggle is the crucible here. In order to save his life, Proctor must lie and sign his name to a false document, which he cannot do. Condemned as well, is the god-fearing Rebecca Nurse, depicted by a valiant Annette Hunt, whose credits are amazing---she appeared in Tribute at the Westport Country Playhouse opposite Van Johnson and she serves on the Boards of The Lambs and The Bohemians, a club for Classical musicians.
The end is a lesson to be learned over and over again. The Crucible forces us to understand that history can and does repeat itself over and over again and we are the only ones that change that.
Book of Mormon -CD
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Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company