When first written, Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” was immediately recognized as an allegory for The Red Scare, the hunt for Communist in the U.S. spearheaded by Senator Joe McCarthy. For his work, Miller disguised this in the form of a dramatic stage play centering around the Salem witch hunts of colonial Massachusetts. As their latest production, Blackbird Theatre, in conjunction with Lipscomb University’s Theatre Department, brings Miller’s classic to the stage once again under the careful direction of Beki Baker with performances through Sunday, February 28.
Staying true to Miller’s original vision, this latest mounting of “The Crucible” invites the audience to be the ultimate juror as they witness first the the actual act that’s later considered the offense, then the ensuing panic, name-calling, lies and deceit that often result in judging others who seem different from yourself.
Upon entering the theatre, one can’t help but being immediately transfixed by Andy Bleiler’s stunning set, moodily and gorgeously lit throughout the show by David Hardy’s lighting design. Whether the larger than life muslin-wrapped figures that line the back of the stage are to represent condemnatory townspeople, voodoo poppets key to one character’s undoing, those being hanged for their crimes, or if my take proves correct, twelve jurors who stand in judgement, there’s an ominous feeling even before the curtain rises.
Once the play begins, Tamiko Robinson Steele literally and figuratively continues the enchantment as Tituba, a slave girl from Barbados, who, at the urging of young Abigail Williams (Emily Meinerding) has taken the local girls into the woods for a night of mischief that is later labeled black magic ritualistic practices by townspeople who pass their time feeding into and off of the rumor mill.
Speaking of Meinerding, she too is spellbinding in her performance. She plays the manipulative young Abigail with such a frightening sangfroid you can just see the evil bubbling below those steely blue eyes.
Within the contest of “The Crucible” Abigail’s aforementioned baby blues are not only set on stirring the pot, but also on the very-married John Proctor, played by Ross Bolen. When he makes it clear that he has no intention of repeating an earlier mistake with Abigail, but rather hopes to repair any damage done with his wife, the kindly Goody Proctor (Shannon Proctor), Abigail manages to turn her jealousy to vindictiveness and focuses on ruining Proctor in a classic, ‘if I can’t have you, no one will’ scenario as she adds fuel to the already present fires of suspect behavior as seen through the eyes of an easily swayed group of close-minded puritans.
As portrayed by Bolen, it’s easy to see why Abigail would fall for him. His finely honed skills bring about John Proctor’s transformation from a cocksure but respected member of the town to a man of regret who becomes wiling to sacrifice his name and standing to save his wife’s honor. To that end, Hoppe plays Elizabeth Proctor with subtlety and reserved elegance.
While the entire cast turn in enthralling performances, standouts include Wes Driver as Reverend Parris, Sarah Johnson as the potentially possessed Betty Parris, the always spectacular Wesley Paine as Rebecca Nurse and Tony Nappo as Cheever. Of these, Driver’s weasely reverend is perfectly played. You know you should respect his position, but his self-importance just won’t allow it. Proving Driver is quite the actor, as he himself couldn’t be a kinder fella. Johnson’s Betty is wickedly fun, playing the part of the devil-driven Betty to the hilt. Paine, as she always does, evokes grace and compassion as Rebecca. Then there’s Nappo, whether by direction or instinct, the subtlety of mud on his shoes adds an unspoken bit of realism to his working-class character, and perhaps even an added allegory of the muck in which we step once we decide to point out the wrong in others.
Even though we may no longer be under a Red Scare, or hold public witch trials, sadly, in the half-century since “The Crucible” debuted on stage, we as a society are still quite often too quick to judge, too ready to blame and too willing to call anything we don’t understand, an abomination. For that reason alone, Blackbird Theatre’s “The Crucible” is as timely now as when it first debuted.
Blackbird Theare’s presentation of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” continues at Shamblin Theatre located in the center of Lipscomb University (3901 Granny White Pike, Nashville) with an evening performance at 7 p.m. on Saturday, February 27 and a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m. on February 28. Tickets are $17 for General Admission and $5 with a valid student i.d. Click Here for tickets.
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