Powerful and moving. Frightening. Riveting. A new timely vision for the 1953 classic Arthur Miller play THE CRUCIBLE as seen through the eyes of director Ivo Van Hove – himself a visionary as exemplified by his exciting and out of the box staging of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE and LAZARUS – all this season.
It’s an amazing output by an amazing man. But it takes a village to bring all this together. And Mr. Van Hove is helped by a slew of seasoned producers, an outstanding creative team and the casting of first rate actors who bring to vivid life the scariest of times. Both the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings. The fear of communism in the 50’s and the fear of witches in 1692. A witch hunt and witchcraft intermingled.
Stalking. Rumors. Accusations. Lies. The power of suggestion. Torture. Sex. Naming names. Religion. Who is evil and who is good? All in a village where whispers and innuendos can escalate to ruin the lives of innocent people – in the blink of an eye. Mass hysteria runs rampant.
The curtain rises on a unit set by Jan Versweyveld depicting an eerie classroom with a large blackboard with some trees and instructions for children to follow scrawled upon it. Young girls with their backs to the audience are seated at desks. Ominous music underscored by Philip Glass. The curtain falls. Girls singing a school anthem – or a hymn. Once again the curtain rises. A tableau of a man holding what appears to be a dead student. Reverend Parris (Jason Butler Harner) holding his daughter Betty (Elizabeth Teeter.) Our attention is immediate. And for the next three hours we cannot look away. We dare not look away. We are totally involved in this insanity.
John Proctor (a fantastic and fierce Ben Whishaw) a farmer with three children with a penchant for missing mass has had a brief affair with the young Abigail Williams (a vengeful and spiteful Saoirse Ronan) who no longer works for him and his wife Elizabeth (a gut wrenching Sophie Okonedo) – for obvious reasons. She is set on revenge. He is eventually accused of witchcraft and dealing with the devil and arrested and tortured – all in the name of the Lord – by Deputy Governor Danforth (a slithery Ciaran Hinds).
Abigail and her gang of schoolgirls had been seen cavorting in the forest seemingly dealing in witchcraft. It is only Mary Warren (a frightened and possessed Tavi Gevinson) who wavers and is the only girl whose testimony can save Elizabeth and John Proctor. Will she?
It is evil incarnate at work here. The final scene between the Proctors is magnificently moving. Their love for one another and their faith in doing what is right for them incredibly touching and leaves us shocked into silence. Until the curtain call.
Jim Norton excels as fellow farmer Giles Cory fearing for his third wife who has been arrested for reading books. One by one others are arrested for no better reasons than being thought of as conspiring with the devil.
A girl levitates. The blackboard comes to life. A dog/wolf wanders the stage and looks directly out at us. The young girls go into a manic trance. Actions and motivations are questioned. Lives are destroyed. Is it witchcraft or mass hysteria?
This production will be embedded in your mind forever. Mr. Van Hove doesn’t want us to forget – ever. Neither does Arthur Miller.
At the Walter Kerr Theatre. Brilliant and theatrical. Highly recommended.
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
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