The Crucible

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Photo: Jan Versweyveld Review
Arthur Miller and Ivo van Hove have been the hottest playwright-director combo on Broadway this season. Never mind that Miller died in 2005, and van Hove didn’t stage the dramatist’s work until 2014. The acclaimed Belgian director’s searing, scaled-down production of the eminent dramatist’s A View From the Bridge was one of last fall’s highlights, and now he’s behind an explosive, resonant revival of The Crucible, Miller’s 1953 drama about fear and persecution during the Salem witch trials.

At the time he wrote it, Miller was drawing parallels between the communist witch hunts of the House Un-American Activities Committee and the 1692 arrests and executions of colonists accused of witchcraft. But there’s nothing stodgy or didactic about this urgent, contemporaneously designed, nearly three-hour production, which boasts a cast led by Brit Ben Whishaw in his Broadway debut, Tony winner Sophie Okonedo (A Raisin in the Sun) and recent Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), another Broadway newbie.

Van Hove’s perceptive visual sense and highly charged approach to plot and character drive the proceedings. He thrives on heightened reality, with characters engaging in choreographed movement or physical aggression toward one another. The raw emotions of Whishaw’s John Proctor are never far from the surface as he watches wife Elizabeth (Okonedo) accused of witchcraft by Abigail Williams (Ronan), the girl he had an affair with when his wife was ill and she worked in his home.

The more Proctor tries to clear his wife’s name, the more suspect he becomes in the eyes of Deputy-Governor Danforth (a chilling Ciaran Hinds). And it’s here that the contemporary ramifications of The Crucible hit with full force. Social media makes it easy and quick to blame and judge, and here the accused are guilty in the eyes of the law unless they can prove their innocence. Questioning the authority of the church or the court only arouses more suspicion. Forget clearing their names — confessing to something they didn’t do is the only way they can save their lives.

Both Whishaw and Okonedo are revelatory as they face this crucible. His Proctor nearly bursts with anger and despair as he charges around the stage, eventually proclaiming, “I have given you my soul; leave me my name.” Okonedo’s Elizabeth is beautifully guileless — an innocent but not a saint — and the pain Abigail’s accusation inflicts on them is deeply felt. In one of the play’s the most chilling moments, Proctor and Elizabeth, ravaged by their confinement and looking only slightly better than Walking Dead zombies, huddle with another inmate, Brenda Wehle’s Rebecca Nurse, as the specter of death looms.

In smaller roles, Ronan brings unflinching stoniness to the scorned Abigail, while Tavi Gevinson makes fellow conspirator Mary Warren a haunting, tormented creature. Among the large cast of 18 are several veterans of van Hove’s Off Broadway productions at New York Theatre Workshop: Thomas Jay Ryan and Tina Benko as Thomas and Ann Putnam, prominent townsfolk looking for someone to blame for the deaths of their babies; Jason Butler Harner as the quick-to-condemn minister Samuel Parris; and the dynamic Bill Camp, whose Rev. John Hale becomes the compassionate moral force of the second act.

Throughout, the show is filled with striking imagery (aided by Jan Versweyveld’s stark set and moody lighting) that heightens the play’s supernatural themes, from a levitating girl to a destructive windstorm to the appearance of a furry four-legged creature. Wojciech Dziedzic’s costumes are contemporary, but the dark, muted colors suggest they’re worn by inhabitants of a repressive regime. The Crucible reminds us that any place can become a repressive regime when hatred and fear-mongering overwhelm our judgment.

By Diane Snyder

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Ben Whishaw, Sophie Okonedo, Ciaran Hinds, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Camp, Tavi Gevinson, Jason Butler Harner, Jim Norton, Tina Benko, Teagle F. Bougere, Michael Braun, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Jenny Jules, Thomas Jay Ryan, Elizabeth Teeter, Ray Anthony Thomas, Brenda Wehle, Erin Wilhelmi

Open/Close Dates
Opening 3/31/2016
Closing 7/17/2016

Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/1/2016
Closing Open-ended

Box Office

Theatre Info
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036