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A CurtainUp Chicago Review
Clearly, the fever isn't over. Much as it conveys 1692 Salem, Arthur Miller's 1953 domestic tragedy targeted Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunt. A taut, topical script, The Crucible matters whenever it's done; fear makes people hunt "witches" in pursuit of a false security. Over fifty years years later, Miller's plot construction still amazes and, with its opera-sized acting opportunities and enough cliff-hangers for a dozen melodramas, few plays ride such a roller-coaster of hope and hate.
A pile-driving Steppenwolf Theatre production, Anna D. Shapiro's fast-paced staging explores every twist and turn as it heads for its devastating conclusion. Miller registers the town's terror by focusing on John Proctor, an ordinary farmer forced into a reluctant heroism. Drawn into the nightmare in order to protect his wife, Proctor finally stands up to the true evil--his hate-ridden home town. Miller doesn't try to cover up these horrors with retroactive psychology or historical revisionism. By rooting them in the raw weaknesses of the Salem citizens, he forces us to ask, where would we stand?
Just as firmly Shapiro roots her heartfelt revival in the flesh-and-blood conflicts that tore up the town, led by tensile-strong portrayals by James Vincent Meredith as John Proctor, a hero for all eras, and Sally Murphy as his much-tested wife. Seemingly dwarfed beneath set designer Todd Rosenthal's peaked meeting-house roof, the cast of 20 unflinchingly recreate the confusion and cruelty of this colonial civil war.
There's terrific work throughout. Mary Seibel as an aged woman who even in jail remains the conscience of the community. . . Maury Cooper as a feisty victim. . . Ora Jones as the Barbados woman whose tall tales ignite adolescents' worst impulses. . . Francis Guinan as the implacable prosecutor. . . Tim Hopper as a guilt-ridden preacher. . . Ian Barford as the Salem minister who, caught up in the killings, refuses to halt the hysteria. Most chilling are the young girls, viciously eager to destroy anyone who ever displeased them and led by Kelly O'Sullivan as a whore who strategically re-invents herself as the foe of Satan. It's a makeover that even Mitt Romney can envy.
For more about Arthur Miller, his work, and links to other reviews of this and other plays, see Curtainup's Arthur Miller Backgroundfer.
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