One of the great joys of theatre is the exploration of the wide range of human emotions. While theatre seems to thrive off catchy uplifting musicals and silly quirky comedies every once in a blue moon a play comes along that is brave enough to unapologetically explore the depths of human despair. Few plays outside the realm of Shakespeare have the power and depth to engage drama like Arthurs Miller’s classic play “The Crucible” which premiered this past Friday at Pioneer Theatre Company.
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The play takes places during the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693 which Miller wrote as an allegory of McCarthyism in 1953 but the message of this cautionary tale of the danger of mob mentality is as relevant today as it was during era in which Miller wrote it. “The Crucible” delivers a powerful story that takes the audience into the suffocating depths of hell that society creates through collective fear and mass hysteria. Although that may not sound like an appealing way to spend an evening the point of theatre is to give audiences a chance to experience every aspect of human nature and to learn a little bit about themselves in the process. While “The Crucible” may not illicit laughs it certainly provokes thought and understanding about the human soul.
No matter how great a playwright may be their creation is only as good as the director and actors that present the playwrights vision on stage and fortunately for audiences the cast of “The Crucible” puts on an absolutely riveting performance that would make Miller proud. It’s a rare feat when a play can invoke such a powerful emotional response in an audience that they feel as though they are experiencing every single heart wrenching moment that is unfolding on stage and this is exactly what the cast of “The Crucible” is able to achieve. The emotional power of their collective performance has the audience feeling every tear and every ounce of anger which resonates from the stage and throughout the entire theatre. The result is that the audience is quite literally on the edge of their seat and at least in my case shaking with anger at the injustices unfolding on stage.
Although there are simply too many outstanding performances from the cast to mention them all the rendering of John Proctor, played brilliantly by Fletcher McTaggart, shines the brightest in a stage full of stars. McTaggart has the task of taking on all the despair, anger, and self pity that his character John Proctor is forced to endure throughout the play. McTaggart skillfully takes the audience on a tour de force of the full emotional range of Proctor from his playful arrogance that seamlessly transitions into defiant anger and finally descending into hopeless desperation and anguish before finally finding his moral strength. The combination of Miller’s potent script and McTaggart’s commanding performance often left me wanting to scream out along with Proctor at the damning events that were being presented on stage.
It’s in this vein that “The Crucible” becomes a performance that must be experienced to fully appreciate as the incredible execution of the entire cast invokes such an emotional response that its hard to resist the desire to storm the stage and fight against the travesties and false accusations being leveled against Proctor and the other innocent villagers. The cast also creates a sense of hopelessness against the hysteria that is unfolding and it becomes nearly impossible to not feel sorrow for the trials and tribulations of those who have been falsely accused.
The end result is a play that speaks to the heart and soul of every person in the theatre and effectively delivers Miller’s intended message about the dangers of mob mentality and the ensuing suspension of logic that can entrap even the most intelligent of people. While Miller’s play may have been an attack on McCarthyism it has more than stood the test of time as his play speaks to audience’s today as a warning against societal trends and collective rage. By the time the nearly three hour play reached its dramatic conclusion the audience seemed just as emotionally drained as the cast but that did prevent a well deserved standing ovation for PTC’s herculean effort in presenting such stirring rendition of “The Crucible”. Although Proctor may not have received justice at the end of the play the collective effort of PTC’s cast and creative team surely did justice to Miller’s timeless classic.