If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Arthur Miller’s “Crucible” Opens Hartford Stage Season

The theatre is plunged into darkness and high above the stage on a lighted catwalk are a bevy of nearly-naked teenage girls celebrating their own version of a Salem, Massachusetts bacchanal. The time is the late 1600s and we are thrust with vivid urgency into the explosive first scene of Arthur Miller’s classic drama, “The Crucible”, the season-opening production at Hartford Stage. Would that the rest of this rather woebegone revival matched those thrilling first moments of stagecraft.

Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” is the playwright’s 1953 dramatization of the Salem witch trials written at the time as a response to McCarthyism and the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities. The drama’s principle characters are David and Elizabeth Proctor whose shaky marriage is tested when accusations of witchcraft begin to tear their small community apart. Religious fervor and extreme paranoia come into play as the teenage girls, in order to spare themselves from punishment, begin to point fingers at fellow citizens until the truth becomes as questionable as the presence of actual witches.

That early scene of raucous hysteria seems to have infected the entire “Crucible” company as overwrought and melodramatic performances from top to bottom take the stage. It’s not that the melodrama inherent in any production of “The Crucible” shouldn’t be addressed, but here it is taken to near disastrous extremes. No professional theatre should allow the type of amateurish theatrics and hammy excess that take place in Hartford under the direction of Gordon Edelstein.

Mr. Edelstein’s brilliant productions of classics like “The Price”, “Uncle Vanya” and “The Front Page” at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre (where he is currently Artistic Director) are still fondly recalled. But in recent seasons he has also directed ill-conceived versions of “A Doll’s House” and “The Glass Menagerie” that did their playwrights no favors. In this current revival, Edelstein has pushed his actors in an apparent attempt to suggest the hysteria of the period. It never truly convinces, however, because all the performers seem to be competing with each other to see who can be the loudest and most obvious. As a result, little truth or realism emerges.

In the large company, Kate Forbes’s Elisabeth Proctor has some welcome quiet moments early in the drama and Annette Hunt makes for a mostly assured Rebecca Nurse, but there are few other bright spots in this ensemble to note. Eugene Lee’s simple scenery works well with Michael Chybowski’s precise lighting especially for a sequence at the Proctor farm that effectively resembles an interrogation setting. Ilona Somogyi’s out-of-period costumes (1920s?) still display more authenticity than most of the acting. This is the first production under the reign of new Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. It is not encouraging.

“The Crucible” continues at the Hartford Stage has already been extended through October 6th. For ticket information and reservations call 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.

 

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