Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Crucible **

I am not a great admirer of this Arthur Miller play based on the Salem witch trials of 1692-93. While the witch hunt theme is just as resonant today as it was during the McCarthy era when it was written, the play seems to me too long, too wordy and too didactic. It has too many characters to flesh out sufficiently to be more than embodiments of points of view. Nevertheless, the stellar casting and my curiosity to see how hotshot director Ivo van Hove would impose his stamp on the material led me to buy a ticket. While I had some reservations about van Hove’s take on View from the Bridge, I did find it compelling and unified. Not so with The Crucible. Setting it in modern dress (costumed by Wojciech Dziedzic) didn’t bother me, but making the set (by Jan Versweyveld) a schoolroom featuring a giant blackboard and dressing the girls in school uniforms seemed pointless. Although he scrupulously follows Miller’s text, van Hove interpolates a couple of very brief nonverbal non-Miller scenes at the beginning and end of the first act. It disturbs me that one of them (and another scene later) virtually eliminates any ambiguity we should feel about whether witchcraft was actually taking place. And then there’s that strange four-footed visitor at the beginning of Act Three. Not even the curtain call escapes van Hove’s tinkering. As for the actors, it’s a mixed bag. The casting is nontraditional and the accents vary widely. Of the four stars, Sophie Okonedo as Elizabeth Proctor comes across the best by far. The role of John Proctor does not seem a natural fit for Ben Whishaw, but he handles it rather well. Ciaran Hinds is adequate but unmemorable as Deputy Governor Danforth. As Abigail Williams, Saoirse Ronan disappoints; her stage presence falls short of the powerful impression she makes onscreen. Jason Butler Harner is strong as Reverend Parris, as are Brenda Wehle as Rebecca Nurse and Jim Norton as Giles Corey. Tavi Gevinson’s Mary Warren seems too young. While I have often enjoyed the music of Philip Glass, I found his score, most of which consisted of a relentless background drone, a distraction rather than an enhancement. Running time: two hours 50 minutes.

2 comments:

Philip said...

Was the sink on the back wall still there? I saw the first preview performance and could not figure out why the play was set in a classroom--with a sink on the rear right wall, no less, where on occasion a character would go to wash his or her hands. The acting seemed flat, and the hero, John Proctor, did not rise to the level of a tragic figure—although I think that’s actually in the writing. As for the music, I don’t blame Philip Glass, even though he has been writing the same piece for nearly fifty years; rather I blame the director for using the music as if The Crucible were a cantata and not a play. The music blocked out many lines of the play.

Bob's Theater Blog said...

Yes, the sink is still there. The Proctors share a cup of water from it in the final scene.