Arthur Miller’s classic, The Crucible, is a dramatized and partially fictionalized play based upon the Salem Witch Trials during 1692/93. When taken at its simplest form, the plot centers on a love triangle between John Proctor (Eric Leslie) his wife Elizabeth (Jennifer Sinatra) and their young and quite attractive former servant girl Abigail Williams (Elizabeth Bennett). When his wife suffered from a period of sickness, he committed adultery with Abigail. John generally views this as an unfortunate indiscretion not to be repeated, but Abby feels as though a much deeper relationship has developed between them. She plots to get Elizabeth out of the way and marry John.
Abby’s scheme to secure John as her husband takes advantage of the growing fear of witches. She convinces the colony’s clergy that she and other young girls have seen the older village women commit witchcraft and cavort with the devil. The young girls were caught dancing in the moonlight and claimed they were possessed as a diversion from their activity. Abby frames Elizabeth with a doll and accuses Elizabeth of using the doll to hurt her. This sets up Elizabeth to be hanged, so John Proctor would then be available to marry Abby.
In the English system of justice in the late 1600s, both the courts and church together established the standards of justice and prosecution. The easiest way for the court to gain a conviction and an execution for charges of witchcraft was a confession. As it turns out, in reality, none of the accused Salem witches who confessed were convicted or executed. However, all of the women and men who refused to confess to consorting with the devil were found guilty and executed.
As the suspected witches watched the other’s trials progress, they become faced with a moral choice; confess to witchcraft and most likely you would be spared from the gallows. Then you would only answer to God upon your death and have your soul damned to hell. Miller’s play asks us think about how we would handle ourselves if we were to find ourselves in this situation, would we lie to save ourselves and our family?
While The Crucible appears to be totally about the Salem Witch Trials, Miller wrote the play in 1952 as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the rallying cry of the era was “Are you now or were you ever a member of the Communist Party?” How different is that from with the question that haunts The Crucible: “Did you see Elizabeth Proctor or Francis Nurse with the Devil?”
The intimacy of the Little Lake Theatre should be just perfect for this type of soul searching drama. However, as seems often the case at Little Lake, actors and directors fail to take advantage of the intimate setting to create a nuanced and sublime performance, instead resorting to shouting to accentuate the drama. By the end of the second act, Director Jena Oberg’s over the top delivery style becomes tiring. This is regretful just as the simple love triangle story transitions to the more complex morality play that requires our full attention.
That is not to say that this production doesn’t have its moments. Standout performances are delivered by Elizabeth Bennett for her portrayal of Abigail, Jennifer Sinatra as Elizabeth Proctor and Ina Block as the elder Rebecca Nurse. John Reilly is the perfect representation of the self-perceived totally infallible and yet totally evil Judge Hathorne.
The resurrection of witch hunts seems to be common practice in today’s political environment. The Crucible takes us back in time to America’s original witch hunt, the questions raised then are just as relevant today.
Arthur Miller’s classic, The Crucible, at Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15317. Performances Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, November 2-4, 9-11 & 16-18 with all performances at 8pm.
For tickets visit https://www.showclix.com/event/the-crucible
Photos by James Orr