In the spring of 1692, the small town of Salem Massachusetts was plagued with accusations of witchcraft. By the accusations died down and the trials ended in the fall of that year, some 150 men, women and children were forced to stand trial. 19 people were eventually executed for the crime of witchcraft.
Centuries later, the United States experienced another witch hunt. But it was not for witches in the 1950’s, it was for communists. Led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, lives and careers were ruined. In 1953, playwright Arthur Miller introduced audiences to The Crucible, a play about the Salem Witch Trials.
The most recent revival of The Crucible opened on Broadway last month. Playing Abigail Williams, the young women who is the catalyst for the hysteria is Saoirse Ronan. Opposite Ms. Ronan as the very conflicted and very flawed hero, John Proctor is Ben Whishaw. John’s loyal and loving wife, Elizabeth, who despite her husband’s mistakes, stays by his side is played by Sophie Okonedo. Rounding out the leads is veteran Irish actor (and one of the main reasons I saw the show, for reasons that are obvious if you know me or my blog) is Ciaran Hinds as Deputy Governor Danforth, the man who takes charge of the trials.
This play is nothing short of extraordinary. It is about a repressed society and how easy it is to join the crowd instead of speaking up for what is right. It is also about young women who rebel to free themselves from a constricting society.
I’ve seen several adaptations of this play, but this revival makes the play feel brand new. The stage has a sparse, industrial feel. The costumes are modern with a muted palate of colors. The cast, is nothing but extraordinary. Saoirse Ronan, fresh off of her Oscar nomination for Brooklyn (a movie that I highly recommend) proves once more that she is one of the finest actresses of her generation. While Ben Whishaw might not have the physical presence of either Liam Neeson or Daniel Day-Lewis (both who have previously played the role, Neeson on Broadway in 2002 and Day-Lewis in the 1996 film adaptation), he makes up for it by his ability to make the audience sympathize with John Proctor, a man who has made a mistake and is trying to make up for that mistake.
As Elizabeth, Sophie Okonedo brings a strength and a resolve to the role. Elizabeth is the calm in the eye of the storm, trying to hold onto her marriage, her husband and stay sane in a community where sanity has been replaced by hysteria. As Deputy Govenor Danforth, Ciaran Hinds (Captain Wentworth in the 1995 Persuasion) believes he is doing the right thing, even if history will prove him wrong.
But the performance that stands out is Tavi Gevinson as Mary Warren. Vacillating between following the crowd and doing what is right, it is Mary who will decide the outcome of the accused.
There is something wrong with the world if the Tony nominating committee passes on this play for a nomination for Best Revival Of A Play and at the very least, Ben Whishaw, Ciaran Hinds and Saoirse Ronan do not receive acting nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress in a play.
Run, don’t want walk to this play.
The Crucible is playing until July 17th, 2016 at the Walter Kerr Theater, 219 West 48th Street in New York City.