Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"The Crucible" conjures up strong emotions, thought-provoking ideas

By Cheryl Thornburg
Powerful performances, plus Arthur Miller's always provocative play, “The Crucible,” make for an evening of riveting, and sometimes disturbing, theater at Tri-PAC's current production in Pottstown.
The story centers around the Salem witch trials in the 1600s in Massachusetts, but elements of the production have been moved into the 20th Century to reflect the era when Miller penned the play – the McCarthy era of the 1950s.
Inherent in both periods is the spreading of lies, almost in a cancerous fashion; fear, hysteria, and  greed, with the end result being neighbors testifying against neighbors in order to save themselves.
Director John Moletross has assembled an amazing cast and drawn poignant performances from both professional actors and youngsters just starting their careers.
Of particular note is Bob Stineman as John Proctor, whose wife is wrongfully accused of being a witch by a young servant girl with whom he had an affair. Stineman brings an intensity and believability to this complex character whose actions and decisions are an integral part of the story. Andrea Frassoni turns in a strong performance as his wife, Elizabeth, who steadfastly remains true to him and her own beliefs.
Paul Recupero turns in a solid interpretation of Reverend John Hale, who initially believes the young accusers, children and teens, who set the entire witch hunt in motion. As his character slowly evolves, he eventually reverses his opinion and speaks for the accused.
Two young actresses handle some difficult roles with a maturity that is impressive. Maggie Swahl, a high school senior, delivers a strong performance as Abigail Williams, the deceptive and seductive leader of the pack of young girls whose lies result in dozens being arrested, and some hanged.
Molly Lang, a junior at Lower Merion High School, plays Mary Warren another of the accusers, who eventually recapitulates, but her confession falls on deaf ears in the court. Lang's performance is poignant and touching as she struggles to convince the judge that she is now telling the truth.
Conjuring up a dynamic performance is Titiloa Verissimo as Tituba, the young woman who dances with the young girls in the woods and who becomes a target of the initial investigation.
A trio of actors turn in powerful performances as the  power players in this scenario. Steve Reazor is appropriately unlikeable as Reverend Parris, the holier-than-thou preacher with a taste for the finer things in life. John McGraw's  Judge Hawthorne is imposing, demanding and thoroughly convincing and Neal  Newman’s  Governor Danforth, concerned about power and maintaining control, could represent politicians of any era.
All in all, the entire cast does justice to Miller’s timeless award-winning play.
The minimalist set is effective, reflecting the stark living conditions of the townsfolk The stage is set up in a long, narrow format, with seating on two opposite sides, which adds to the challenge for the actors, but also may make it difficult to see some scenes.  If you go, sit in the center seats.  Having chosen an aisle seat at one end, it was difficult to see one of the most dynamic scenes  where Tituba is grilled about her actions. Two of the actors blocked most of this scene from my point of view.
In Salem, it was witches in the '50s it was communists as satirized by the Chad Mitchell Trio who sang “If your mommie is a commie, then you gotta turn her in.” Generation after generation, this scenario seems to raise its ugly head, in different forms, with different targets.
“The Crucible” is a powerful reminder of the pitfalls and dangers of such thinking and forces us to ask the questions, “What would I do? What would I die for?”
If you've never seen the play, now is great time to experience it. It will make you think, it will make you angry, and it may very well leave a permanent mark on your personal philosophy.
"The Crucible" continues through March 20 at the Performing Arts Center, 245 E. High St., Pottstown. Performances are Thursdays, March 10 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, March 11 and 18 at 8 p.m.; Saturdays, March 12 and 19 at 8 p.m.; and Sundays, March 13 and 20 at 3 p.m. Ticket prices are $17-21 for adults; Students and seniors (65+), $15-19; and children 12 & under, $13-15.
For more information go to  www.villageproductions.org or call 610-970-1199.


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