Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spaeth on "The Crucible"

Also not from The Crucible

“Crucible” Looses With (sic) Hunt In Euclid-77th Play House
By Arthur Spaeth
Cleveland News, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 1954

In "The Crucible", being given stirring, disturbing life in the Euclid-77th Play House these nights, Playwright Arthur Miller has turned the pages of American history to strike a parallel with our times in the infamous witch trials of Salem, circa 1692.

It is not new to see Justice dramatized for us as a woman with bandaged eyes, being prodded and pressured into blind confusion by self-seeking men twisting truth and disregarding the rights of free men.

Cleveland’s Karamu theater is now showing us such a world in the sixth century before Christ when a wise Socrates must die becauyse witch-hunting Athenian politicos elect him their expedient victim. There is brutally clear parellel with our hour in Maxwel Anderson’s “Barefoot In Athens.”

Hysterical Salem

And the parallel is implicit and as ominous in Miller’s angry poetic parable. The good and pious people of Salem trade sanity and reason for mass hysteria to accuse and hang helpless citizens as witches because of the tantrums of some silly Puritan girls.

I have said that such pictures of our imperfect world have been dramatized again and again. That is repertorial and not editorial. I meant no implication that there have been too many such plays or that our dramatists have gone overboard in rallying the theater to speak out against social cancer.

Alas, the contrary is too true. There can’t be too many such dramas. On hasty inventory, the writers in our theater today who have the courage to try to more than just entertain us can be counted on the fingers. Come to think of it, the fingers of one hand.

Lies & Gallows

Don’t get me wrong about Mr. Miller’s drama. It is no soapbox oration. The playwright does not cup his hand to your ear and demand you catch a modern echo. There is no ranting insistence that there, but for the Puritan garb, musical speech and 262 years, go you.

No, he trusts audience perceptivity and conscience as he looks into the lives of hard-working farmer John Proctor, Good Wife Elizabeth Proctor and their respected friends that are twisted to horror by the prattle of some silly girls.

At first the lies of the harpies seem too absurd but soon their splattering taint have become truth and the Proctors and others are tried and convicted of witchcraft in the Salem Meeting House. When doubt of its justice disturbs the court, John Proctor is offered the chance to save his neck by confessing to the lie of guilt. His refusal brings the roll of the drums beside the gallows.

No 'Death of a Salesman'

This is for the most part powerful and effective drama. But it is by no means on the lofty level with Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” There is a vagrant feeling that the author tried to compress too much shrill action and to crowd too many chatraters into his scenes. He achieves the hysteria of the witch hunt to the detriment of his forte for character insight.

You do not understand John Proctor and Goodie Proctor as you did Willy Loman and the wife who ate her heart out for her man. The other characters are largely the author’s chorus stepping out of the ensemble only long enough for each to contribute his single phrase to the collective insanity of the witch hunt. But for all this, “The Crucible” demands and gets your will to believe and be moved.

In this the author has zealous and artful collaboration in Frederic McConnell's staging and the excellent company with which he has peopled the Euclid-77th Salem.

Kirk Willis and Eve Roberts as John and Elizabeth Proctor ring wonder into those quiet scenes when they are alone on the stage. Rolf Englehardt’s with-hunting cleric who discovers too late the monster he has helped loose is pretty special, too. And that goes for William Paterson’s righteous deputy governor-inquisitor. Helen Watkins and Robert Allman as victims of the inqusition inject high spirit into their roles and Max Ellis’ malicious parson and Frank Stevens’ evil parishoner do the author and play no harm. And there’s Jane Squibb’s impure Puritan whose lies loose hell in Salem town. There is completence everywhere in the large cast.

And speaking of acting, that impressionistic setting by William McCreary, a framework of stained beams, is artfully primitive early American in pretending to be four varied locales in Salem of 1692.

So much for witch hunting in the Euclid-77th Play House, save an urgent, SEE IT!

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