The Crucible Review
The Power in Packs
The stage grows ominous as young women slink into view. They sit in a semi-circle facing the audience as the pack leader receives a tankard of blood. She uses a poppet to splash the enchanted liquid onto the seated girls who flail back and erupt in ecstasy. After the alpha drinks the remaining blood the girls explode around the stage, shouting, and howling as their feet pound the wooden beams. A man charges into view and bellows at the girls to stop, but they escape his capture, their spell completed.
Such is the opening of the Suffolk University Theatre Department’s adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Directed by the renowned Judy Braha, the production stays with the original script word for word with only slight transitional differences that add to the foreboding sense of the play. Early on the audience is able to see that the cast has put hours of effort into the intensely physical, emotionally straining characters.
Arthur Miller’s tale tells of a young pack of girls who, after becoming drunk with power, throw the whole town of colonial Salem into chaos. Calling out names of those who have allegedly compacted with the devil, the girls send half the town to the gibbet in the name of justice to God. However the ladies do not know their leader Abigail Williams has another motive. She has only one victim in mind, the wife of her former employer and secret lover John Proctor who turned her away from the home out of guilt. Her plot quickly spirals out of control as Salem descends in superstitious suspicion with a body count.
The script is filled with scenes of accusation and argument, calling for an energetic cast and director. The words are open to interpretation which the Suffolk cast ran with. The overall acting can be described only as loud, borderline obnoxious at some times. At least the whole cast was in agreement that any line that can be yelled should be. Sitting in the first few rows can be tough on the ears, but that keeps the audience from becoming bored during the slower scenes of The Crucible.
Although the whole cast works together in the over-the-top rendition, there are still standout characters. Raya Malcolm and Jacob Athyal share the limelight while facing off as bitter opponents. The scenes where the two act off each other are abundant with a range of emotions that show the talent of the actors. Malcolm alone must traverse the several personalities of Abigail Williams as she is one minute a scorned woman and in the next a love-struck child.
The production also saw several other cast members that took center stage for the crowd. Gillian Gordon, who played frightened Mary Warren, had the entire audience hoping the poor thing would be safe from both the court and the pack of girls. As she sat at the front of the stage, Gordon visibly trembled and even shed a few tears under the questioning of Deputy Governor Danforth, acted by Shakyves Dubreuil. The Deputy straddled the stage with a presence of authority that radiates into the audience.
The incredible immersion of the cast into their characters is supplemented by a range of costuming. Upper class church and government officials wear solid, well-sewn fabrics with clean black shoes. Subtly the clothing becomes less refined as it goes down through landowners with patterned vests and long jackets to the cotton-made, rough-looking jackets. The attention to detail misses nothing as John Proctor’s shoes have marks on them from plowing fictional fields. Throughout the second act even the most pristine of costumes become dirtied and torn with the slop of a rustic prison.
Instead of creating a large-scale movable stage that would show those fields and cells, the cast opted for a minimalist set. Three dimensions of frame-like walls symbolically put the characters both on trial by each other and the audience. Platforms crafted from wood display several levels allowing the actors to stand above and below each other. Tufts of thick string give the set a rural touch to bring the theatre to early Salem.
The overall atmosphere of The Crucible adds to the set in a way physical creations never could. The lighting casts enormous shadows in one ominous scene and brightens the entire stage when God is supposedly found. A drum softly beats to a steady rhythm, adding just enough tension without an overpowering soundtrack.
As the set grows increasingly dark an occasional crow will call out from behind the curtains. The audience is drawn into the action of the play through a crew that knows how to create a world within a world.
The Suffolk University Theatre Department showed their talent in The Crucible. While this season may be over, next year holds the promise of more well-performed productions. Keep your eyes open for the fall calendar listings that will leave the audience shocked and awed.