Belgian director Ivo Van Hove is known for avant garde theatre, but although this production (which we saw toward the end of previews) aims to upset our received notions of the play, I would not call it experimental. Still, readers of the play know that Arthur Miller attempted a greater degree of control than most playwrights have, by including extensive stage directions, backstories and appearance of the characters, set descriptions, and even commentary on the play’s meaning. This “metaplay” material is extremely valuable in understanding Miller’s vision, yet a truly great play must work independently; it must lend itself to re-interpretation, just as Shakespeare and Sophocles do. The Crucible passes this test.
Director Van Hove and set designer Jan Versweyveld have set aside much of the metaplay, while adding subtle layers of seventeenth-century Calvinist culture in New England. The results are sometimes startling, but always fascinating. The Long-Suffering Husband and I had the advantage of having recently attended a more traditional staging of the play in Cleveland (which we greatly admired). Thus we were able to compare the two versions, and the audience reactions to them. The most obvious shift from Miller’s original intention for the play is the modern costumes and set. Usually the costumes for The Crucible are at least vaguely “old time” and rural, given that John Proctor and his neighbors are farmers, and the women wear head coverings and long skirts in drab colors to convey the Puritanism of late seventeenth-century Salem. This production garbs the teenaged accusers in what look to North American eyes like drab Catholic schoolgirl uniforms (grey pleated skirt, knee socks, buttoned shirt, cardigan sweater). The men wear suits or trousers and shirts in rough fabrics of earth tones and black. Their wives wear skirts or culotte-like trousers, with a sweater or shirt and jacket. There are no head coverings for the women, and their hair is loose.
The music by Philip Glass is varied. It starts out with the sound of a chorus of girls singing a hymn (a psalm?), then moves to a mournful cello, a male chorus, a solo female voice. The main motif is the cello with a drumbeat which grows at times to resemble a heartbeat, or the steady thud of the march to the scaffold. At the very end, Ben Whishaw sings Psalm LXIX as he moves offstage to be hanged: “Into deep waters I am come…” The first time I watched the play, I sometimes found the music distracting, for it continues as the characters are speaking. The second time, I found that it increased the suspense and dramatic power, especially toward the end.
The Crucible is often presented in the round, which I find very effective, so I wondered what it would look like on a traditional proscenium stage. The large number of characters is a challenge. Van Hove has cut back the number onstage at any one point, and he blocks it so that the characters either arrange themselves symmetrically, spread out across the stage, or form tight clusters within the large, expansive space of the set. Only at points of stress does the blocking feel chaotic or even naturalistic; more often it is stylized and formal.
Versweyveld’s set is stripped down, but not quite as much as in A View From the Bridge. It is recognizable as a schoolroom, or perhaps a large multipurpose room in a school—not unlike those in any large institution built in the 1960s or 70s. Along the back wall is a small porcelain sink, and large air vents; on the left is a bank of windows, and on the right a single door through which all the characters make their entrances and exits. In case there is any doubt about the school environment, the curtain first rises on a group of girls sitting at desks, facing away from the audience, singing softly. They gaze at a large chalkboard hung on the back wall, on which is written:
The Dutiful Child’s Promises
I Will fear GOD, and honour the KING.
I will honour my Father & Mother.
I will Obey my Superiours.
I will Submit to my Elders,
I will Love my Friends.
I will hate no Man.
This is a quotation from The New England Primer, the most-read book in Puritan Massachusetts after the Bible. (The original includes additional lines.) In spite of the modernized dress and environment, we are not so very far from the Puritans in spirit; the Dutiful Child’s Promises are a sort of junior version of the Ten Commandments, which have such an important role in the text of the play (just as the Psalms are mentioned in the text, and realized in the music). After this initial, brief look at the set, which is slightly obscured by a light screen of the type used in windows, the curtain descends again. When it finally rises for the first scene, the desks have been stacked at the side of the room. A few chairs are scattered about, and candles are lit. We see Reverend Parris (a suitably craven Jason Butler Harner) holding his limp daughter in his arms, before placing her on a table as Tituba enters to speak the first words of the play: “My Betty be hearty soon?”
Throughout the play, the same set is used; only a few props are introduced in order to suggest other venues. This works very well for the judicial proceedings, since it is easy to imagine the schoolroom being used as a makeshift court. It is less successful as Reverend Parris’ house (indicated by the candles and Betty’s table/bed) and as the home of John and Elizabeth Proctor (indicated by a large stockpot cooking over a portable propane burner on a cart.) On the other hand, the spare set is successful in conveying a “Puritan” atmosphere barren of luxuries. The chalkboard is the most creative and dynamic prop: initially an orderly list, it graduallly fills with a chaotic babel of words and drawings as the play progresses: Proctor writes the Ten Commandments (minus a critical one); Mary Warren writes “I cannot, I cannot, I cannot,” and strange graffiti fill the empty spaces. Characters lean against the board and come away, their clothing tainted with chalk. By the play’s end, the neat schoolroom has become a shambolic mess, like the community it was built to serve.
The Cleveland production we saw last year added one complicating element, the casting of African-American actors as John and Elizabeth Proctor. Although the rest of the cast was racially mixed (at least one of the accusing girls was black), the judges were all white males. Therefore the sight of John Proctor thrown into chains and tortured was a provocative one for the American audience. In this Broadway production, however, the cast is racially mixed, but with a different subtext in the distribution of roles. The diversity increases the universality of the allegory, with actors of varying physical types, and two interracial couples (the Proctors and the Nurses). Still, the text itself is anything but racially neutral. Tituba (Jenny Jules), who is according to Miller’s text a “Negro slave” of the Reverend Parris, expresses deep hostility toward her master, and it is suggested that he regularly beats her. Abigail’s contemptuous line “They want slaves, not such as I. Let them send to Barbados for that. I will not black my face for any of them!” is also retained in this production.
The most radical piece of casting is Ben Whishaw as John Proctor. According to Miller, Proctor is “powerful of body” and he is typically cast as a large, muscular man—to great effect. Usually one can feel him straining to hold himself back when he is tempted to use force against his enemies (as when they come to arrest his wife). Instead, the slight Whishaw looks almost emaciated. There is no attempt to hide this; instead, at the end of Act Two, after Elizabeth has been arrested, he removes his jacket and shirt and stands facing the windows: “We are only what we always were, but naked now. Aye, naked! And the wind, God’s icy wind, will blow!” This prophecy is fulfilled quite literally, through a piece of stagecraft, so that a stormwind full of debris blasts through the windows and hits his slender body. Proctor’s physical vulnerability poignantly mirrors his emotional state—he’s like a young King Lear. Up to this point, thanks to Whishaw’s commanding voice and stage presence, he has seemed confident, and as Miller calls him, “one who has a biting way with hypocrites.” From now on, he is caught in a deadly struggle with little to rely on but his wits and his force of will—masculine physical intimidation is not an option. Interestingly, however, Whishaw’s slightness allows the director to have him physically confront several of the other actors without seeming like a brute. He twice manhandles Abigail rather provocatively (the second time, she climbs on top of him and starts delivering punches), tackles Mary Warren, and even charges Deputy Governor Danforth during the confession scene, knocking him to the ground.
Sophie Okonedo has the difficult task of actually going against the text (and Miller’s very explicit stage directions) to make Elizabeth Proctor unexpectedly warm and welcoming toward John. In turn, this makes him a less sympathetic character. When he blames her for being cold and withdrawn toward him (“Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer!”), you can tell he is projecting his own anger at himself onto her.
Saoirse Ronan as Abigail, however, is quite traditional—vicious toward her enemies, and very seductive toward Proctor. In spite of what we have read in some of the interviews about Abigail as a child who has been hurt and victimized, I didn’t see much of a vulnerable side to her. It is important to remember that Abigail has been brutalized by the murder of her family before her eyes, and Miller’s stage directions suggest that she is deluding herself, that she actually believes her own accusations. But her experiences have made her undeniably cruel, and Ronan’s Abigail seems hard as nails, especially when turning those laser-blue eyes on anyone likely to get in her way. Van Hove takes advantage of this by having her sit in a chair facing Mary Warren during their interrogation by Danforth. Abigail stares across, her eyes blazing. Mary (an excellent Tavi Gevinson) looks terrified, and I don’t blame her. One aspect of the staging which I thought worked well was to have Abigail stand in the background, beside the chalkboard, during long stretches when the grownups are arguing. You can almost see the scheme taking shape in her head, as she listens to their petty charges and countercharges.
This production stays serious and the actors do not often exploit the laughs in the text–except for Giles Corey (the wonderful Jim Norton), who is inherently a comic character, but also quite believable in his litigiousness and stubborn refusal to give in to his tormentors. “More weight,” reported by Elizabeth as his last words when being pressed with stones, has got to be the best line an actor never spoke. I noticed that certain religion jokes which drew hearty laughs in the Cleveland production (“The Devil can never overcome a minister” or “We are not Quakers here yet, Mr. Proctor”) were barely recognized by the New York audience. Although Brenda Wehle is sympathetic and dignified as Rebecca Nurse, she doesn’t manage enough tartness to convince us that she has twenty-six grandchildren. When Ann Putnam dramatically announces “My Ruth is bewildered; she cannot eat,” Rebecca’s wry “Perhaps she is not hungered yet” ought to be a slam dunk, but it falls flat.
Between Act One and Act Two, the curtain rises unexpectedly on a singular vision, of Betty Parris floating silently in midair. Although this is not the only indication of supernatural activity in the staging of the play, it is the most dramatic one (other eerie effects are achieved by projection of lights onto the chalkboard at strategic moments, and by the supernatural “icy wind” that sweeps through John Proctor’s house). The “flying” girl leaves virtually no doubt that in this play, witchery is real. What, then, of Miller’s famous debunking of mass hysteria? As a matter of fact, I think this is a case where Van Hove is cleaving quite closely to Miller’s ideas. When the play first appeared, the analogy between witch hunts and Red baiting was criticized because Communists actually existed (and presumably posed a threat to the status quo) while witches did not. But Miller wrote, “I have no doubt that people were communing with, and even worshiping the Devil in Salem.” The fact that in this production the witch hunters are ferreting out a real threat to their culture forces us to the realization that their dilemma is indeed our own: how far are we willing to go (for example) in pursuit of terrorists? Are we willing to accept accusations as proof? In order to protect ourselves from hidden enemies, are we willing to practice torture and call it righteous? To sacrifice the innocent, that we may punish the guilty?
One line which does draw a laugh is Elizabeth’s comment to John, “You have a faulty understanding of young girls.” Ben Whishaw ably conveys the tragic flaw that brings Proctor down: his inability to deny Abigail her “promise,” or to call her out as a liar until it is too late. This error arises partly from John’s continuing desire for Abigail, partly from his wounded pride at having to keep abasing himself for a wife he (wrongly) perceives as unforgiving, and partly from his misunderstanding of female psychology. The scene of Elizabeth’s arrest changes all that. John Proctor is still contemptuous of the witch hunt, but now he fully grasps the danger. The Proctor of the text, at least as I read him, is most agonized by the idea that his virtuous wife will suffer for his sin; once again he will be the blameworthy instrument of harm to her, and his pride can scarcely sustain this knowledge. In this production, Proctor’s pain is at least as focused on fear for his wife, whom he has belatedly realized how much he loves. They part after a close embrace (not indicated in the text, which instead states that Proctor “cannot bear to look at her” as she decides she must go). The trauma restores to them a physical intimacy which had been almost irrevocably lost.
After the intermission, as Act Three is starting, Van Hove adds a visual element which is absent from the text. A wolflike dog emerges from the back of the set and snuffles its way back and forth. It works its way downstage and stares out into the audience—an eerie effect. Suddenly Giles Corey’s shout is heard offstage and the animal rushes off to the right. The “wolf” heralds the advent of Deputy Governor Danforth, the judge who will dominate the second half of the play. My theory is that the wolf is a symbolic evocation of the trial and testing which is about to take place. In the language of alchemy, the purification of gold (“the King”) in the crucible is achieved with the help of antimony (“the Wolf”). When heated with gold, antimony eats into the metal and brings its impurities to the surface where they can be skimmed off. When the mixture is heated further, the antimony itself evaporates, leaving pure gold. This process was referred to as “The Grey Wolf Devours the King” and was illustrated most famously in Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens, published in 1617. Not coincidentally, the seventeenth century was the great age of alchemy, an occult art embraced by the Puritans and practiced extensively at Harvard College, alma mater of the Reverend Parris in the play. Furthermore, William Stoughton, the most prominent judge in the historical Salem witch trials, and the single most important model for the composite character of Deputy Governor Danforth, is known to have practiced alchemy.*
Act Three introduces Danforth, the man who will subject John Proctor to the crucible and reveal whether he is made of true gold or base metal. Danforth (Ciarán Hinds) is described by Miller as “a grave man in his sixties, of some humor and sophistication that do not, however, interfere with an exact loyalty to his position and his cause.” Miller has also been quoted as saying that Danforth (not Abigail) is the true villain of the piece: “His ‘evil’ is more than personal, it is nearly mythical. He does more evil than he knows how to do…” Ciarán Hinds, however, says that he doesn’t see Danforth as a villain, but one who stands on the law, a man who has “a super belief in God and righteousness, but not a particularly bad human being.”**
Danforth is no hysterical zealot, and certainly considers himself a fair-minded and impartial jurist. His failure is that he cannot separate himself from “the court”; a threat to one is a threat to the other. Hinds plays him as a commanding type, accustomed to deference, respect and obedience, yet instantly alert to anything that might undermine his (or the court’s) position. We understand this from the moment he asks Francis Nurse “Do you know who I am?” (a question he repeats in the final confrontation with Mary Warren). Old Giles Corey doesn’t threaten him, but Proctor and Mary Warren certainly do. Right from the start, before he even knows the nature of Proctor’s evidence, he tries to suppress it. For any actor, the challenge of playing Danforth is to reconcile the way he manipulates the law to serve his own ends with his clear conviction that he is upright and fair. Can anyone truly be that blind to his own partiality? Danforth is sometimes played as a slightly dim buffoon, but Hinds portrays him as an intelligent and decent man with good intentions, who simply cannot see past the weighty barriers of self-regard which he has erected. Toward the end, when Abigail absconds and Danforth’s case has become riddled with holes, a few signs of cognitive dissonance are visible in his eyes, but by that point there is too much at stake —too many have died at his hands— for him to permit himself any doubt.
One of the most uncomfortably funny moments in the play is when Cheever, Hathorne, Parris and Proctor debate whether Goody Proctor may have secreted “poppets” in her house, all unseen. Danforth paces up and downstage, listening gravely as the men cluster anxiously about him, advancing their weighty legal arguments about dolls:
Cheever: She said she did keep poppets when she were a girl.
Proctor: She has not been a girl these fifteen years, Your Honor.
Hathorne: But a poppet will keep fifteen years, will it not?
Proctor: It will keep if it is kept, but Mary Warren swears she never saw no poppets in my house, nor anyone else.
Parris: Why could there not have been poppets hid where no one ever saw them?
Proctor (furious): There might also be a dragon with five legs in my house, but no one has ever seen it!
Between them, Proctor and Mary Warren succeed in shaking Danforth’s confidence. Precisely in order to uphold his sense of self, to salvage his belief in the justice of the court, he must question Abigail, warning her with unconscious irony that “to God every life is precious, and his vengeance is terrible on them that take life without cause.” Abigail boldly turns on Danforth, and now we finally sense that her viciousness results from the horrors and injustices of her own life:
I have been hurt, Mr. Danforth, I have seen my blood runnin’ out! I have been near to murdered every day because I done my duty pointing out the Devil’s people— and this is my reward?
Abigail falls back on the supernatural, pretending (?) to feel an “icy wind,” and Proctor is forced to play his last card. Suddenly he cries “Whore!” on Abigail and admits his guilty knowledge of her; the two grapple and roll on the floor. With this seismic revelation, all Hell literally breaks loose so that the very beams of the schoolroom seem to be falling. A shocked Danforth must reckon anew with evidence of Abigail’s duplicity, but he devises a test which he knows is rigged in his favor: he gives Elizabeth the choice whether to damn her husband, without knowing whether he has incriminated himself. When Elizabeth lies to protect John, Danforth seizes on this fragile evidence as solid proof. Abigail and her minions quickly move to discredit Mary, driving her to a frenzy by mimicking everything she says. Yet it is not they, but Danforth who breaks her in the end:
You will confess yourself or you will hang! Do you know who I am? I say you will hang if you do not open with me!
Mary’s decision to repudiate John Proctor is clearly motivated by self-preservation: “I’ll not hang with you! I love God! I love God!” But her re-absorption into Abigail’s orbit is marked by a supernatural light effect, a hundred tiny photons exploding from her as she is propelled against the chalkboard by an unseen force. Mary has no more strength to resist, and the Devil rejoices.
At this point I should recognize Bill Camp’s outstanding performance as Reverend Hale, the witchcraft expert who (unlike Danforth) comes to acknowledge both the hollowness of the trials and his own responsibility in sending innocent people to their deaths. The Crucible may be John Proctor’s story, but Hale experiences his own tragic arc, ultimately disowning the proceedings and praying with the convicted, urging them to confess and save their own lives. It is this seductive offer which John Proctor, a man with a powerful will to live, finds so tempting.
Among several cuts in this streamlined production of the play is the beginning of Act Four, when Tituba and Sarah Good are shown being moved from their cell by a drunken Herrick. Instead, the act begins when Danforth learns of Hale’s activities among the condemned, and of what ought to be the final confirmation of Abigail’s fraud: she and Mercy Lewis have stolen Parris’ money and run away. Instead of ending the madness or acknowledging doubt, Danforth grows even more implacable:
Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering… I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes.
Danforth puts his faith in principles rather than people, with the result that he is rendered blind to suffering. (The character strongly reminds me of “Saint” Thomas More, another man who never doubted that he was acting righteously when he tortured and killed “heretics.”) The rich poetry in his lines wars with the realism of Hinds’ performance, yet this marriage of the mythic and the particular is characteristic of Miller’s work.
The problem for the judges, as the craven but practical Reverend Parris points out, is that several respected citizens will be going to their deaths unconfessed, which casts doubt on the proceedings as surely as a reprieve or pardon could. Therefore it is essential that at least one of the prisoners confess and (preferably) implicate the others, and so the final conflict of The Crucible is played out. Danforth has the pregnant Elizabeth Proctor brought in to “soften” her husband’s resolution, and the two are left alone for a few precious moments. When we see that the prisoners are filthy and dishevelled, and that John has been flogged till his back is in bloody shreds, the “modern” dress and setting suddenly dissolve into the seventeenth century… or do they?
Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo are very moving in this scene, which is played first standing, then sitting on chairs, and finally on the floor, with the two actors in close physical contact. Whishaw is tender and tearful, kissing his wife’s face all over, then passionate and agonized. Danforth and the other men loom eagerly over him as he sits on the floor with hesitating pen in hand; the composition is like some Old Master painting. Ultimately, his choice to die feels raw and real, and the audience is left breathless and mourning as Elizabeth affirms, “He have his goodness now.”
Text copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss
*For the New England Puritans and alchemy, see Woodward, Walter W. Woodward (2010). Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
**Theatermania interview with Ciarán Hinds and Jim Norton.
Thanks you, Linnet! I’ve been scouring the net looking for early reviews ( too soon) and I am certain that none will be as detailed as this is. As you know, you being an honorary Richard Armitage fan, Richard Armitage rocked his performance as John Proctor at the Old Vic, in what seems like a very different interpretation of this play. So, it was with special interest that I looked for reviews. I could not imagine Ben Whishaw as John Proctor, mainly for the physical dissimilarities you pointed out. Whishaw is just – well, wispy.
I knew you would be making the trip to NY to see this play ( for obvious reasons, ugh, Judge Danforth) and have been waiting for your write-up as well.
I thought the King and the Gray Wolf analogy was most interesting – and then, of course, such a procedure would no doubt take place in a real crucible.
I’m a little put off by what you describe as Elizabeth’s Proctor’s warmth. What do you make of this? Is it consistent with your interpretation of the play?
Many thanks, Perry. I think Whishaw is excellent as Proctor. He captures the character’s intelligent skepticism, and his passion. He effortlessly projects this very powerful, forceful personality, and yet he has vulnerabilities. I thought Sophie Okonedo was less successful, but it’s because she (or the director) chose this different path for Elizabeth, which swims against the current of the text. They actually cut lines from the dinner scene because there is no table for him to sit and be served at. They cut the part where he doesn’t like the seasoning of the stew and adds salt to it himself (or maybe minimized it–I think he at least tastes the stew first, but I don’t remember him grimacing or anything). So right from the start, that distance between them isn’t there. And she doesn’t act cold. It’s only when the subject of Abigail comes up that you realize there is a problem between them. And he blames her quite bitterly. She’s very good at the end, though. There’s a great bond between them in that scene.
And thanks for the reblog! Much appreciated 🙂
Reblogged this on Armitage Agonistes and commented:
Linnet Moss has seen the current version of The Crucible on Broadway, with Ben Whishaw as John Proctor, and her crush, Ciarán Hinds as Judge Danforth. Have fun comparing this take on the play with what weknow of Yael Farbers.
Thank you for this in-depth review of the Broadway Crucible production. I had been looking forward to your take on it. And I am really glad that my prejudices have not been confirmed – I am delighted to hear that Whishaw has done such a splendid job with Proctor. At the same time, I am also glad that the production seems to be so radically different from Yael Farber’s for the Old Vic, that comparisons are not really unfavourable for either side. (As a huge fan of the OV production, I would’ve hated that.) I would love for cast and director to compare their notes of their characters/direction and hear them hash out why they made specific decisions on characterisations etc., particularly Whishaw and Armitage.
I’d love to hear more what you make of Saoirse Ronan? I’m not really familiar with her work, but I had the impression that her role as Abigail – certainly a character who veers more to the negative than the positive – is quite different from what she has previously done, and I was wondering how she came across as the vicious, manipulative and desperate Abigail.
Glad to hear that Mr Hinds has once again delivered!
Many thanks, Guylty! Both times I saw the play, I was struck by the fact that Abigail’s part is not that big in terms of lines, though of course her impact is huge. That’s why it takes an actress with great magnetism to play this role. And Saoirse Ronan was perfect. Saoirse is very beautiful, but she doesn’t look like a sexpot. She looks young and wholesome, yet has those seductive eyes. She is the any-girl next door, the au pair girl who sleeps with the husband. And what an acting talent. It’s such a radically different character from the one she played in “Brooklyn.” If there was any flaw in her performance, it was that she didn’t project vulnerability, as Van Hove seemed to want. His vision of the character was that she was orphaned, female, a servant girl–all things that put her at a disadvantage. I think that’s inherent in Miller’s vision of Abigail too. But the audience has to extend that sympathy. She doesn’t do much to earn it, LOL. I guess one could play Abigail as a mentally unstable girl who believes she sees these visions–that’s certainly in Miller’s text. With Ronan’s performance, I felt Abigail was lying and manipulating them all quite consciously. And yet, the special effects suggest that there was something real going on, too. So it’s a very thought-provoking production.
Thanks for that, Linnet. It’s hard to sympathise with Abigail, in any case, thanks to her deceiving and manipulation. She is, essentially, also a young, stupid, somewhat inexperienced girl, who is trying to save her own skin. But she does so by implicating others – which loses her all the sympathy one might have.
In terms of her looks, I really agree – Ronan is not what I would’ve imagined Abigail to look like. But that works in her favour, I think, projecting some of that contradiction…
I was surprised at how powerful she is onstage. Sometimes the impact of film stars does not translate to theatre, but she’s a natural.
I was sure i had responded to you wonderful review but i think i had to stop all the time i read it before coming to an end due to interruptions and thoughts. Well, better late than never 🙂
I am glad Whishaw pulled it off and then in a way i thought he would. Had i not seen him in London Spy i might have had trouble visualising some of the acting you describe but he had a lot on strength in there based on convictions and passion. So i can see how he could be very strong from within without physicality. And he’s still quite tall 🙂 I guess his inner quietness if i may call it that helps with projecting a level of authority that comes from inner belief rather than physical strength. I regret that this has not been filmed 😦
Also because of something you said about Ronan, i think until you see some actors on stage you don’t quite realise the intensity they can project, screen is not the same in that respect and it can be quite surprising.
I always thought Elizabeth had warmth, it was just that she never knew or learned how to express it or talk about it. It’s only when all conventions of society and propriety break that she can be free to do so. It’s too ingrained in her to be dutiful, etc. Whereas as a man he is somewhat freer to express his passions or less used to have to control them, maybe because he’s not experienced temptation like Abigail before. He’s always been so sure of doing the right thing, being a good man and suddenly is tripped up from within, sure it is profoundly unsettling.
I don’t know if Abigail is vulnerable, she was and has experienced great fear. I think she never wants to be in that position of fear and vulnerability again, it’s a sort of survival instinct in her that makes her do anything and manipulate anyone for what she sees as her survival. So she ends up being a bully. I find the way she uses the other girls much more disgusting than the way she manipulates Proctor or Danforth.They fall for it because they see a child in her, or a very young women, but she’s stopped being that not with Proctor but with the experience of living through her parents being killed.
Too bad some of the jokes with Rebecca didn’t land, i always found the 1st act aside from the interaction between Abigail and the girls highly entertaining. The local politics, the backstabbing, the sheer human faults 🙂
One thing in the production you describe i would have had difficulty with, all the supernatural elements. For me those would clash against the piece. Because to me the end is the consequence of human faults and character flaws which are excused or hidden under pretended supernatural influence. But maybe there were some cuts which made the monetary motivation in many of the participants less evident, to me it’s clear the local folk, a lot of them use the trials to their own advantage to get what they couldn’t under normal circumstances.
Just as Danforth who indeed believed in the need and rightfulness of law, order, obedience, religion in the end of me recognises the threat of rebellion above all else and tries to prevent it. I don’t think he is evil, he is authority, he defends it above all else, and he believes he is right. I think Proctor and Hale are both there to bend show that there is more to right and wrong than just law, religion and authority 🙂 But i wouldn’t like him portrayed as evil and i think Ciaran was a great choice in that respect.
It sounds like a great interpretation of the play, i’d dare to say more through the great choice of actors and the relationships and chemistry that are thus created than through the production itself, ie the physical elements of the production that is.
I can hardly imagine a context in which this play does not work, it’s so good! But it is about the people and the relationships between them and i am glad that worked so well 🙂
Interesting choice of music Glass… would seem a bit dispassionate for my taste but maybe they were trying to keep the audience a bit objective?
Thanks again for the wonderful read!
Thanks for the great comment, Hariclea! I think you’re right on the money with Elizabeth’s character, and Abigail. And Danforth too, even though Arthur Miller himself said that Danforth was an evil man. The way he’s written, though, he is not doing the evil consciously. However, when his case falls apart before his eyes and he willfully shuts them to the truth, that to me is evil. I think he puts his own pride first, even risking rebellion in order to maintain a façade of justice. Ciarán gave him humanity and made him seem very much a real person, not just a pompous talking head. That’s why it was so scary.
The supernatural stuff was daring, but it was great in terms of theatricality. Van Hove really used those effects to increase the horror element, and it worked! It complicated the message, but I thought that was a good thing. The grudges and fights over property were still there, but as you say, they were not foregrounded.
The Philip Glass music was not typical of his work. So much of it was voices singing in a traditional way. The only aspect I thought recognizably “Glass” was how relentless it was!
oh and i meant to say i found the analogy very interesting with the wolf and the king! thankfully you explained it because it would have been sadly completely lost on me 😦
I am not a very religious person and growing up obviously religion wasn’t something that was explored where i lived but i often feel a gaping hole of knowledge where the understanding of the influence of religion on human culture should be…
Thanks! Everyone says that this play is an allegory and it’s really about the blacklisting of Communists, but in reading it, I felt that Miller was saying a lot about religion too. There’s a connection between organized religion and authority that goes to the heart of the play. It is a warning against theocracy of any variety. It’s a very American play because the type of religion he shows is still alive and well here.