The Modern Day Crucible.
From the moment the curtain rises, we know Ivo Van Hove is going to be up to his old (and some new) tricks again, much like he did in the superb A View From the Bridge last fall. He’s going to strip away the obvious setting and the period costumes and ask us to look underneath that facade and find the core of what’s really happening here in Arthur Miller’s classic 1953 play, The Crucible. It’s the same witch hunt, but Van Hove alters it in a way that makes it feel less about Salem circa 1692 and 1693, or the Congressional Hearings on Un-American Activities in 1956 (that Miller, himself was questioned and convicted by for refusing to identify others), and more universal and current to religious politics in America. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.
I won’t say much about the stage design (beautifully done by Jan Versweyveld who also did the lighting) nor costumes (Wojciech Dziedzic), all exquisite and masterful. And I won’t say a word about Ivo Van Hose’s dramatic flair, but it’s very apparent he wanted to excite us visually and dramatically. Many may say it is too much, but I think it works here, once again. His direction and creative story telling kept me thoroughly engaged and as frustrated as Miller expertly intended.
Saoirse Ronan is making her Broadway debut beautifully playing Abigail, the vengeful and cunning young woman who sees an opportunity and runs whole heartedly with her deceit. Abigail infuses the young girls, who never felt any prominence within the community, with blinding power through corruption and lies, wrecking havoc and revenge on the women of Salem. It’s a powerful piece of writing, and Ronan handles her part with authority and an intensity that gives us chills of discomfort. It feels like her part though has been downsized in Van Hove’s editing of the piece, although her desperation and lust for the terrific Ben Whishaw’s John Proctor is as powerfully as ever, and her need to get his wife, Elizabeth Proctor (a wonderful Sophie Okonedo) out of the way, is as evident to the audience, as it is invisible to the others. Both actors do a spectacular job. Some may find fault with Whishaw’s portrayal as being on the less powerful side of the epic Daniel Day Lewis portrayal in the film, but I felt it worked, matching Okonedo’s intensity.
With Abigal’s lessened role, the play seems to alter from a triangle of lust, deceit, and revenge, to a story more about the Proctors and their understanding of the prosecution and false charges surrounding them. It’s a subtle shift, but one could say it alters the focus to a more universal idea of propaganda and lies being taken as truths by the masses, something we Americans are seeing all around us this election year. This powerful and superlative cast make an impressive argument, and Van Hove’s theatrical flair and intense direction drives this idea home.