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Millibo's Crucible remains relevant in new setting 

click to enlarge The Crucible: a lesson in pointing fingers. - BRIAN KWAN
  • Brian Kwan
  • The Crucible: a lesson in pointing fingers.

Most know the Millibo Art Theatre for its comedies and cabarets, but when they do drama, they do drama. This season's staging of The Crucible proves that professional clowns can absolutely take things seriously. Not that there's any other way to tackle Arthur Miller's 1953 commentary on McCarthyism.

The Crucible, set in Salem, Massachusetts, during the famous colonial witch trials, drew attention to the witch-hunt going on in America during the Red Scare, but seems to be timely no matter when it's presented.

The play follows the decline of this small town after a young lady named Abigail Williams (Anna Faye Hunter) throws out accusations of witchcraft, mostly in order to win the heart of John Proctor (Taylor Geiman), and to get his wife (Erica Erickson) out of the way. Between executions of innocent people, monologues about sin and hell, and rather prescient cultural relevance, it's a tough play.

The Millibo's execution (if you'll pardon the pun) lands a little different than most versions of the play. The Roy Ballard-designed set looks like the stripped innards of a modern building, complete with plastic tarps, broken beams and cracked concrete. It suggests a dystopic, futuristic cityscape rather than a colonial town, and implies a commentary on where the divisiveness of our own culture could take us.

Visually, The Crucible is stunning. With a cast of 21, blocking has to be stellar, and the light and sound has to keep attention focused in the right places. Director Kelly Walters had a tough job, but managed to drag characters into the light — in some cases, literally — to bring them to the forefront of a scene.

The characters in the center of the action, no matter where they are onstage, draw the eye, but the audience never forgets who is still in the room. Near the beginning, almost 10 minutes go by without a word from Abigail Williams, but she sits quietly on the stairs watching John Proctor. Scenes like that are common and well-managed, making the stage feel full without feeling crowded and lending more weight to characters' interactions and reactions.

Since the cast is so large, it's impossible to laud each of them individually, but my companion and I agreed that there wasn't a bad performance in the bunch, aside from a couple opening-night line fumbles near the end.

Among the most effective performances: Geiman's John Proctor. He starts out stoic, almost dismissive, but with flashes of vulnerability that make the buildup to his final, emotional monologue feel organic. It is easily the most powerful performance I've seen from him.

Hunter, too, presents the perfect Abigail. Sometimes devious, at other times deceptively innocent, she's entirely believable in the role.

Special mention should also be given to the Mary Warrens (Priscilla Needs, Abby Gaydos), two actresses playing the same role. Needs delivers her lines in sign language while Gaydos translates for the audience. Both of them emote beautifully and the addition of ASL to the action and dialogue makes for dynamic scenes, especially when characters who are not deaf use intermittent sign language to communicate with Mary Warren.

On the whole, this version of The Crucible feels decidedly eerie. Everything from the opening dance to the costumes to the background music feeds a feeling of disquiet that has just as much to do with the play itself as the cultural implications of its setting.

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