Theatre Calgary is currently presenting Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a play written over five decades ago and set in the 1600′s. For a play that has been around for half a century, it is still incredibly relevant and this is a beautiful production of the piece.
The Crucible tells the true story of the Salem Witch Trials which happened in Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. The trials were a terrifying example of what can happen when a community bands together out of fear and turns on itself and its neighbours. Central to the story is John Proctor (Karl Sine), a farmer who’s wife Elizabeth (Vanessa Sabourin) is one of the local women falsely accused of witchcraft. The accuser is Abigail Williams (Claire Armstrong), a young woman who had previously engaged in an affair with Proctor and thus is accusing his wife as a means of usurping her so she can become John’s wife.
When Miller wrote the play the Republican party in the United States was on a witchhunt of their own, accusing various people of engaging in “Anti-American” activities and being Communist sympathizers. Miller himself was under investigation, and the resulting play is a fantastic examination of the human spirit and the lengths those in power will go to in order to ensure their survival – especially when they feel as though their position may be threatened. It’s a theme we see over and over again in society – we never seem to learn from our past. In fact one could easily draw parallels to the recent fear tactics employed by the Conservative government in Canada leading up to the Federal election, most notably the tip line set up for people to report their neighbours if they felt they might be engaging in ‘suspicious’ activity.
When people live in fear, they act out of self preservation and selfish interests instead of thinking about the human condition and expressing kindness and compassion. These are the central issues of The Crucible as John Proctor struggles to free his wife from the false accusations while also wrestling with the issue of what makes a ‘good’ man. He is a broken man, one who desperately wants to repair the relationship with his wife while setting a good example for his sons, but also one acutely aware of his sins and eager to find forgiveness.
The cast of nineteen is outstanding, each person tackling the prose heavy piece with panache and a seemingly deep understanding of the material. Sine is a stand-out as John Proctor, expressing visceral emotion as he tries to come to terms with both his sins and what he must do in order to be a ‘good’ man. As his wife Elizabeth, Vanessa Sabourin is both stoic and heartfelt as she comes to terms with her fate and watches friends die at the hands of a false accuser. Claire Armstrong handles the role of Abigail with a delicate balance necessary to ensure that the performance doesn’t become over the top – and when she begins seeing visions of spirits in the court and riles up her fellow children (Jesse Lyn Anderson, Brianna Johnston, Kelly Malcolm, Caitlynne Medrek) it’s frightfully delicious. The girls screams echo through the theatre and you truly believe they’re in a state of terror.
While each actor handles the material with an ease not always seen with Miller’s work, they also work together extremely well as an ensemble under the direction of R.H. Thomson. The set design by Cameron Porteous evolves throughout the evening, being built before the audiences eyes by all members of the cast. It’s remarkable to watch and adds a deeper meaning to the thematic elements of the story as you see the town come together to create something. They are working together seamlessly to put up bricks and mortar the way you picture a village building a barn, and yet when they devolve into a state of fear everything falls apart around them.
In the end, The Crucible is a story about both love and fear. The love Proctor has for his wife and his friends, the compassion for those falsely accused and the disgust at those who follow blindly when motivated by fear.
Especially in an election year I encourage everyone to revisit Miller’s work… All I could think as I exited the theatre was how often I have heard that the ‘arts don’t matter’ in tough economic times. I would say Theatre Calgary’s production of The Crucible is a perfect example of exactly why the arts DO matter. I challenge anyone to see this show and not leave with some important questions ruminating in their brains, and it is a good reminder of historical events that we all need to strive not to repeat. The arts matter, history matters, and community matters. We all need to remember to try and be ‘good men’ no matter what the cost, and not let fear stop us from standing up for what we know to be right.
When and Where?
Theatre Calgary – The Crucible
On stage now until November 8th
To purchase tickets or for more information please visit their website https://www.theatrecalgary.com/2015-16/the-crucible