Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's reviews of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, Fun Home, Irving Berlin's White Christmas, and The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer
Theatre Coup d'Etat staged an astonishing production of The Crucible, which I was able to attend on its closing weekend. This small theater company has done highly praised work over the past few years and The Crucible again hit that mark. Under Brian Joyce's masterful direction, a cast of twenty actors enacted this all too timely story with total clarity and conviction. With a host of characters representing different sides, motives, and positions of power, there was never doubt over the proceedings, and the play felt brisk despite its lengthclose to three hours, with intermission.
Farmer John Proctor (well regarded, in spite of a short temper and strong will) and his upright wife Elizabeth face accusations of witchcraft that seem completely unfounded. The evidence against them stems from Abigail Williams, a high-spirited young woman, hired as a maid in their home when Elizabeth fell seriously ill. During the course of Elizabeth's illness, John had an affair with the much younger Abigail. Seven months prior to the start of the play, Elizabeth learned the truth, Abigail was dismissed from her post, and John broke off his affair with her. Whether her anger at losing John's attachment pushed her to actions beyond reason, or she had always had a devious and vindictive nature, Abigail has taken on the persona of a victim who is bedeviled by witches, able to call them out for public shaming and punishment. And, to hear her tell it, they are in great abundance.
Abigail plays her hand craftily, at first accusing those of low status, whom the community were all too able to lay guilt uponsuch as a black servant from Barbados and Sarah Good, a woman known for excessive drinkingthen, as the town becomes infected with witch-hunting mania, turning to neighbors of higher standing. Abigail aims her deception at Elizabeth, under the delusion that with Elizabeth destroyed she could become John's wife. When John stands by his wife, Abigail turns her venom against him as well.
There were no flawed performances and the lead actors were exceptional. James Napoleon Stone, who was also the producer of this production, had the central role of John Proctor. Stone revealed Proctor's weaknesseshis pride, his short tempter, his stubbornnessyet conveyed the sense of Proctor as an admirable man, intelligent, principled, and guided by inner light rather than the laws of a corrupt theocracy. His fatal flaw was in succumbing to the affair with Abigail. Kaylyn Forkey played Abigail, instilling her with viperous duplicity, seeming genuine in her obsessive claims on John's love, while able to take on the guise of a tortured victim of witchcraft without batting an eye. Forkey gave her the spine to manipulate anyone, from the coterie of girls taken in by her charisma, up to the Deputy Governor. Jamie White Jachimiec's Elizabeth was strong willed, unbending to what she knows to be right. She made the wounds inflected on Elizabeth by John's betrayal fully evident, her heart cold and stony. When she finally sees a light of goodness rekindle in John's heart, we feel the anguished depth of her love, forgiveness and regret.
Charles Numrich was terrific as Deputy Governor Danforth, who comes to Salem to preside over the trials, his booming voice broadcasting his sense of authority and his self-righteous interpretation of the law. Lauren Diesch was extremely effective as Mary Warren, hired as a maid by the Proctors after Abigail, who first is taken in by Abigail, then realizing the devastating effects of the falsehoods, struggles to convey the truth, but finds herself bullied by both the Court and by Abigail. Kevin Fanshaw as Reverend Hale, who must wrestle with the doubts that began to erode his world view, and Charla Marie Bailey as the Barbadian servant, Tituba, both were particularly memorable. All of the actors handled the accents skillfully, sounding every one like a Bay Colony resident, with credit to dialect coach Jim Ahrens.
The company found a performing space that was both unexpected and perfectly suited to this workthe sanctuary of Zion Lutheran Church, a neighborhood church on a residential block in Saint Paul's Midway neighborhood. The church has a homey and humble feel well suited to host colonial Salem. There was no set, other than the lacquered wood panels of the church altar, and the minister's pulpit made a wonderful judicial bench for Deputy Governor Danforth. During the trial, Abigail and her cohort of girls were seated in the choir section, while cast members serving as witnesses occupied the first few pews. A. Emily Heaney's costumes conveyed the austere tones of the Puritan ethos, as well as class distinctions among characters. Mark Kieffer contributed effective lighting design, though his sound design did not fully overcome acoustical limitations of the space.
It is important to remember that, though founded in pursuit of freedom to practice their religion, the Puritans who settled the Massachusetts colony did not respect religious freedom for others. Theirs was the established, and only, church and their law was derived from it. Their brand of Christian faith adhered to the presence of the devil and his ability to lure weak-souled persons into witchery. The penalty for those found guilty was death. Indeed, "found guilty" is an imprecise term: as is stated in The Crucibleby Deputy Governor Danforth, witchcraft is an invisible crime. With no tangible evidence, the word of the accuser must be believed. An accused person was assumed guilty unless they could prove their innocence, a nearly impossible task. Those who confessed were granted a stay of execution, while those who refused to admit their "guilt" were put to death. An accused woman or man had to either falsely claim to have been in league with the devil, or maintain the truth and die.
Today there is no shortage of targets for those who would partake in witch hunting. The more society becomes polarized, the more those identified as "not us" start to look as witches did to the residents of Salemreason takes a back seat to belief based on fear and ignorance. Joseph McCarthy's search for Communists in the 1950s has been called a witch hunt, certainly the major point Arthur Miller had in mind when writing The Crucible. Seeing the play again, at this time in our civic life, is a strong warning that witch-hunting is not only a folly of history, but can be a threat to our social fabric at any time.
The Crucible, a Theatre Coup d'Etat production, played December 2 - 19, 2016, at Zion Lutheran Church in Saint Paul. For more information on Theatre Coup d'Etat, visit theatrecoupdetat.com.
Writer: Arthur Miller; Director: Brian Joyce; Costume Design: A. Emily Heaney; Light and Sound Design: Mark Kieffer; Dialect Coach: Jim Ahrens; Stage Manager: Meagan Sogge; Assistant Stage Manager: Meesh Morris; Producer: James Napoleon Stone.
Cast: Jim Ahrens (Judge Hathorne), Charla Marie Bailey (Tituba), Lauren Diesch (Mary Warren), Michael Dufault (Rev. Samuel Parris), Kevin Fanshaw (John Hale), Kaylyn Forkey (Abigail Williams), Meri Golden (Martha Corey/Sarah Good), Jane Hammill-Golembeck (Rebecca Nurse), Brandon Holscher (John Willard), Craig James Hostetler (Ezekiel Cheever), Jamie White Jachimiec (Elizabeth Proctor), Diana Jurand (Mercy Lewis), Alana LaBissoniere (Ann Putnam), Lanny Langston (Francis Nurse), Kelly Nelson (Susanna Walcott), Charles Numrich (Deputy Governor Danforth), Antonia Kramer Perez (Betty Parris), Glen Stone (Thomas Putnam), James Napoleon Stone (John Proctor), William P. Studer (Giles Corey).