Custom Made Theatre presents Arthur Miller’s The Crucible


Set in 17th century Salem, this classic story of individuals standing up against the corruption of their society was Miller’s allegory for the witch-hunts of the 1950’s House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joe McCarthy. The Crucible shows the persecution and state-sponsored murder of twenty persons by their friends and neighbors for alleged affiliations with the supernatural world. It also shows how power in the wrong hands can be wielded and opposed in any community–an issue that remains to this day.

As a work of theatre, The Crucible is one of Miller’s best examples of his mastery of subtext. And while this production as a whole is not done in a style that demonstrates Miller’s genius, there are many elements that remain praiseworthy.

It is always difficult to know whether artistic choices are directorial. One in particular is the surprising lack of subtlety in the portrayal of Deputy Governor Danforth (Paul Jennings). A man in a position of power has no need to prove it by shouting angrily. There is nothing more frightening than such a man who benevolently imparts a despicable point of view.

Equally confusing is why if both Proctor (Peter Townley) and Goody Proctor (Megan Briggs) repeatedly mention the emotional chill in their home, she would greet her husband open-heartedly with a welcoming smile. In a society where dancing is considered a sin, casual touching and shouting strike false notes, and feel completely antithetical to the culture. 

The Crucible directed by Stuart Bousel also presents challenges in the trial scenes when the young girls demonstrate hysteria. This alternates with dialogue among the judges which dialogue unnecessarily gets completely lost. Picking up cues without talking over others can build in volume to a more dramatic effect.

In the majority of scenes, the ensemble works well together keeping the action apace with notable performances by Reverend John Hale (Nicholas Trengove), Goody Putnam (Melissa Clason), Ezekiel Cheever (Vince Faso), Rebecca Nurse (Carole Swann), Francis Nurse (Richard Wenzel) Mary Warren (Alisha Ehrlich) and Giles Corey (Ron Talbot). As always at CMT the sound design (Liz Ryder) is stellar. 

Even with these reservations, The Crucible is an American classic worth seeing. Thurs-Sat 8pm Sun 7pm thru June 15. Gough Street Playhouse 1620 Gough Street, SF 

Linda Ayres-Frederick