A CHALLENGING PRODUCTION OF ARTHUR MILLER’S “THE CRUCIBLE”
A Challenging Production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”
Custom Made Theatre Company is currently presenting a provocative production of Arthur Miller’s classic play “The Crucible”. This marks the fourth time I have seen this interesting drama. I saw the original at the Martin Beck Theatre with Arthur Kennedy playing John Proctor and E. G.Marshall playing Rev. John Hall. Later I saw a revival in the American Theatre Repertory at the Belasco Theatre in New York with Farley Granger playing John Proctor and Denholm Elliott play Rev Hall. The last time I saw this classic play in New York was in 1991 once again at the Belasco with Martin Sheen playing John Proctor and Michael York playing the Rev. Hall. I also saw the Marin Theatre production in 2001 with Rod Gnapp playing John Proctor and Michael James playing Hall. The marks the first time I have seen a semi-professional production.
Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1953 and it dramatizes and partially fictionalizes the story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Province of Massachusetts Bay during 1692 and 1693. The playwright wrote the play as an allegory of McCarthyism when the U.S. Government blacklisted accused communist. Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives’ Communities on Un-American Activities in 1956 and convicted of “contempt of Congress” for refusing to identify other present at meetings he had attended.
Custom Made Theatre is to be commended for taking on such a hefty work. Productions of Arthur Miller plays seem about as rare as hen’s teeth now in San Francisco. This is powerful, if uneven, production that the company is presenting. Director Stuart Bousel has put a modern touch on this production and has speeded up the words of the playwright’s script that can be a slight dis advantage in my estimation. This production has lost the dark and melodramatic style that I have seen in prior productions. He also seemed to cut down the long speeches in prior productions.
The opening scenes are confusing maybe because opening night the large cast seemed to be so very hyper with every one talking at once. Many of the cast were speaking so rapidly that the core of these important scenes was lost in this intimate three sided theatre. The cast finally got into the grove toward the end of the first act and the second act.
Stuart Bousel has ensemble a large cast of seventeen actors and actresses in this two hour production. Peter Townley plays a modern day version of John Proctor. He tends to rush his words at the beginning of the production but finally nicely settles down in the role toward the end of the first act. Nicholas Trengove gives a good account of his role as Reverend John Hale and Megan Briggs is good as Elizabeth Proctor. Paul Jennings (a member of the 2013 International Actors Fellowship at Shakespeare’s Globe in London) with his excellent theatrical voice is outstanding as Deputy Governor Danforth in the second act.
The costumes by Brooke Jennings are somber, befitting a New English Puritan community. Lighting design by William Campbell is excellent and the minimal set by Stewart Lyle is very good. Performances by the rest of the large cast is notable.
“The Crucible” runs through June 22nd at the Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-798-CMTC or on line at www.custommade.org Coming up next is David and Amy Sedaris’s “The Book of Liz”.