Pointing Fingers and Naming Names
Intrepid Theatre Company teams up with Moxie Theatre to present the Arthur Miller classic, “The Crucible”
A crucible is a vessel that doesn’t melt easily, even at very high temperatures. Metaphorically, it’s come to mean a severe test or trial.
In “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller put the whole country on trial, even though within the play, indictments are only handed down to those charged with witchcraft. But there’s a severe test of conscience for every character onstage.
The setting is Salem , Massachusetts , 1692. But in 1953, Miller had a very different witch hunt in mind. He was called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, and was convicted of ‘contempt of Congress’ for his refusal to name names, to identify other writers believed to be Communist sympathizers.
His parable, though rooted in two very particular eras, turns out to be timeless. Once again, intolerance has reared its ugly head in America , paranoia and group hysteria have distorted reality and dehumanized whole swaths of the populace (gays, liberals, immigrants). Groupthink lives again, the collusion of lies that (falsely) paints one faction as paragons of moral rectitude and damns their perceived opponents to hell.
And that was what happened all through late 17th century Massachusetts . A fear-fueled us-vs.-them mentality emboldened people to say who was God-fearing and who was not. Over 150 men and women were arrested and imprisoned. Nineteen were hanged; one was crushed to death under heavy stones. A half dozen died in jail.
Miller worked from the historical record, maintaining names, conflating characters and heightening emotions. His play makes a potent, if preachy, argument, perhaps his most melodramatic. But it still packs a wallop.
Encinitas’ new resident theater, Intrepid Shakespeare Company, which is dedicated to classics, teamed up with another spunky, gutsy troupe, Moxie Theatre, to produce this rarely-seen, large-cast Tony Award-winning play.
It’s a long but potent evening. The talky drama is heavily laden with moralizing. At its center is John Proctor, the fiercely independent farmer who acquiesces, and then refuses, to falsely admit to witchcraft in order to save his life. Sean Cox , co-founder of Intrepid, imbues the role with a hearty physicality, fierce rationality and suppressed sexuality. It’s a riveting performance. As his wife, Lisel Gorell -Getz is a repressed and taciturn woman, but one worthy of Proctor’s defense. Similarly stalwart is Rhona Gold as Rebecca Nurse. Kelly Iversen is strong as Mary Warren, the young girl who agrees, under pressure from Proctor, to go against the other finger-pointing girls and retract her accusations, but then she collapses under peer pressure. Justin Lang is compelling as a Reverend who has a late change of heart. Jon Sacks and Jim Chovick are rigid moralists without mercy, who will not be swayed by facts or reasonable refutations.
The stark set, sinister sound and Puritan look make for a powerful production, co-directed by Intrepid co-founder Christy Yael and Moxie co-founder Jennifer Eve Thorn. But much of the cast plays just one dramatic note in this long evening, which diminishes the emotional effect. Intellectually, though, it’s impossible not to be drawn in; you can’t fail to see the alarming parallels to our own time.
The Moxie/Intrepid co-production of “The Crucible” runs through December 5 at Moxie’s Rolando Theatre, near SDSU, 6663 El Cajon Blvd.
Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm (no performance onThanksgiving Day).
Tickets: $20-25 (discounts for seniors, students and military), are available at 858-598-7620 or www.moxietheatre.com