A Broadway show –wild success, abject failure, or anything in between– is something to celebrate. It’s an outpouring of the human drive to create, to perform, to connect with a live audience, so that they sojourn for a time in a land of wonders, horrors or delights. It is a sharing of words, images, music, movement, and ideas, in one of the world’s premiere venues for theatrical talent. And when it works, there is nothing more thrilling.
I am unabashedly fannish and gushing when it comes to theatre, because it is powerful. It can change your life. Television and films simply don’t have the same effect. I wish more children were taken to the theatre. My first experience was Fiddler on the Roof at around age four. I have to admit that I eventually fell asleep, but the image of the fiddler himself is seared into my brain forever, as is Tevye singing “If I Were A Rich Man.”
When I first heard that Ciarán Hinds was going to be in The Crucible, I was not entirely pleased. It’s a play that American children are made to read in school. We were taught that it is a parable of “McCarthyism.” Already when I was a girl, the name “McCarthy” was history. Somehow I kept mixing up Joseph McCarthy (paranoiac demagogue who persecuted Communists) with Eugene McCarthy (liberal anti-war politician and Presidential candidate).
But I dutifully bought a copy of the play and read it for the first time since high school. And I was blown away. Yes, the message about the human propensity for mass panic and bullying is powerful. But what got my attention was the language. Miller created an artificial seventeenth-century “dialect” which would evoke the speech of Puritan Massachusetts, yet be accessible to modern audiences and actors. Then he proceeded to use that language to dazzling effect.
Miller’s Centennial has led to many revivals of his works. The LSH and I have seen two productions of The Crucible in the past year, including a spectacular one directed by Laura Kepley at the Cleveland Playhouse.
The 2016 Broadway production directed by Ivo Van Hove daringly strips away the traditional staging while reaching deep to the roots of the Puritan source material. They say there is nothing quicker than a New York Minute, but Van Hove has staying power. He’s having a New York Year, and what a year: Antigone with Juliette Binoche at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s Lazarus at the NY Theatre Workshop, and two Miller shows on Broadway: A View From the Bridge and The Crucible.
The 2016 production features the paradox of a slightly-built Proctor, inhabited by Ben Whishaw, who conveys all of Proctor’s tenderness, wit, anger and agony. Saoirse Ronan is an unforgettably sexy and malevolent Abigail, while Sophie Okonedo portrays a dignified, intelligent and warm Elizabeth Proctor.
[Excerpt from an interview by Kathy Henderson for Broadway.com]:
This production is excitingly theatrical. Is the play as intense to perform as it is to watch?
CIARÁN HINDS (Deputy Governor Danforth): Oh god, yes. There’s a lot of argument, debate and discussion, and the lighting [in the court scenes] spreads over the first six rows of the audience, so in a way, they’re complicit. We can see them, which requires a much greater focus. It’s kind of scary but also very interesting.
JIM NORTON (Giles Corey): It requires intense listening between the actors to stay in the moment. And [Ciaran] comes on halfway through the play, which is the hardest thing. You have to get up to speed immediately.
CIARÁN: I listen to the first act in my dressing room, just to get into the mood of the work being done and to hear how the audience is responding.
Sitting in the second row, I could hardly believe my eyes when a wolf made its way about the stage, stopping front and center to stare out into the audience. It was a moment of primal awe: these people are engaged in a struggle for their survival, against forces which may well devour them. And yet Salem is a small town, not so different from any small town today with its quarrels and grudges. As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I am so grateful that I got to see this production. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.