Through numerous revivals and television adaptations, Arthur Miller’s allegorical play The Crucible has taken on new and important meaning, traveling through sixty years of American history and serving as a bastion of American theater. Though the story of the play is concerned with the Salem Witch Trials, its original intent was to hold a mirror up to the McCarthy-era fear of Communism, and the work has remained relevant through its portrayal of intolerance, prejudice and suspicion.
The Grand Theatre’s production of The Crucible is a beautifully directed and subtly acted presentation of a classic. David Hanson brings a deep-voiced and weighty authority to protagonist John Proctor, a man that is well respected in his Puritan community but personally swamped with the guilt and shame of adultery. As his wife, Elizabeth, actress Cassandra Stokes-Wylie is a quiet and stoic presence—when Proctor declares her faultless honesty, an audience will have no trouble believing it. Familiar Utah favorite Max Robinson portrays the haughty Judge Danforth with energy and humor, driving his scenes at a rapid pace and escalating the level of urgency and delusion, an effect that is helped in no small measure by Jonathan McBride’s excellent turn as the paranoid and small-minded Reverend Parris.
Sahara Hayes portrays Abigail Williams, the young instigator of the witch accusations and Proctor’s former lover. Hayes is believable as a Puritan heartbreaker, and her machinations in the courtroom are petty and cruel. Her scenes with Hanson, however, can be awkward; Hayes sometimes appears uncomfortable with her character’s shameless nature. Tyson Richard Baker throws his weight into a passionate performance as Reverend John Hale, presenting a character arc that is moving and satisfying. Finally a small gathering of young women prove, without a shadow of a shrill and shrieking doubt, that there is nothing more terrifying than a thwarted teenage girl (in particular Robin E. Young as Betty Parris, who has a scream so terrifying that it could make the hairs on your arms stand up).
The production team has worked together here in a commendable manner; in particular, director Mark Fossen has been meticulous. The scenes and the actors within them flow with grace, but between lighting and staging, Fossen has created some striking visuals. Such a large cast should present a challenge, especially in the pivotal court scene, but Fossen’s direction ensures that every actor is visible and available (though the Grand’s low and close seating can sometimes obstruct a patron’s view of the stage—this reviewer discovered that the show is best viewed from seats at the sides of the auditorium).
Fossen’s direction falls in careful alignment with Keven Myhre’s minimal sets. Alyssa Edlunds’ costume design sticks to a strict and striking black-and-white theme, though there are often anachronisms and peculiar choices in clothing for the female characters (blouses that look distinctly Victorian, for example). Lighting designer Spencer Brown is vital in presenting the aforementioned striking visuals; his disturbing lighting illuminates the girls in sinister floods of sickly greens and burning reds, and the subtle and bloody streaks of daybreak in the final scene only emphasize the heartbreak of John and Elizabeth Proctor’s final sacrifice.
It is Fossen’s directorial notes that sum up the production best: “Miller’s play doesn’t just describe America in 1692 or 1952. Today we see The Crucible through post-9/11 eyes that have a fresh memory of true national fear. What can fear make us do? In trying to save our communities, are there any limits? When neighbor turns on neighbor, what does ‘community’ even mean? When we walk in the clouds, how do we see our way?”
The Crucible may not provide a definitive judgment on any of these questions, but it certainly establishes a frightening and—even now— an important vision.
The Crucible plays Thursdays – Saturdays until March 24. Call 801-957-3322 or visit www.the-grand.org for tickets and information. The Grand Theatre is located on the campus of Salt Lake Community College at 1575 S. State Street in Salt Lake City.