Dark imagery dominates ‘The Crucible’

The opening minutes of the theatre department’s production of The Crucible were immediately foreboding and intense, an unsettling foray into darkness: With the black curtains almost completely drawn, the only light came from an orange sliver running along the bottom of the curtain. From behind the curtain came several female voices laughing, giggling and sometimes crying out, their shadows visible through the orange crack along the floor as they danced around the stage. John Proctor (Stephen Simalchik ’13) walked up to the curtain from the darkness offstage and opened it at the middle to reveal four young women dancing in their nightgowns amid the soft orange glow of the stage’s lighting.

Performed in the Adams Memorial Theatre at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, The Crucible opened to a packed house. When the curtains rose, the audience saw Tituba (Christina Adelakun ’13), a Barbadian slave owned by the Parris family, sitting dismayed on the floor across from Betty Parris’ (Sophia Wilansky ’16) bed, where the girl lay in a coma-like slumber. Her father, the tall and stern Reverend Samuel Parris (Connor Lawhorn ’16). approached Betty and his niece, Abigail Williams (Marina Bousa ’13), followed shortly after. The audience learned that Betty and Abigail were found dancing in the middle of the night as fellow townsfolk gathered in the Parris household, including the nervous and accusatory Putnams, Ann and Thomas (Alison Bunis ’16 and  Omar Gouda ’16). Abigail and Betty accused Tituba of practicing witchcraft and making the girls do the devil’s bidding, and soon the entire town encircled Tituba, menacing her until she confessed the names of four women whom she claimed to be witches. And so begin the witch trials, the townsfolk calling out the names of various women they have “seen” with the devil in a delirious and frightening chant.

Directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Omar Sangare, the theatre department’s adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play focused on Proctor, who revealed the fraudulent nature of Abigail’s claims and who had his own a dark, adulterous past with her. To compensate for his sins, Proctor made it his mission to expose the wickedly manipulative Abigail, especially when he learned from his housemaid, Mary Warren (Elena Faverio ’15), that his wife, Elizabeth “Goody” Proctor (Elizabeth Stern ’14) was also accused of witchcraft. An allegory for McCarthyism in the 1950s, The Crucible explores the nature of fear, doubts and irrationalities that the Red Scare spawned by paralleling it to the witch trials of Salem, Mass., which ended in the execution of 19 women in 1692. Dramaturge Ilya Khodosh ’08 described Sangare’s production as “a portrait of a diseased society, a suspense story of adultery and brutality in a fundamentalist community.”

The Crucible played out like a horror story, drawing in the audience by probing its twisted characters. The entire play was staged in a soft orange glow, designed by visiting lighting designer Seth Reisler. A beautiful but haunting fiery light washed over the characters, creating an ambiance at once warm yet unsettling and claustrophobic. A fog machine constantly provided a thin mist over the heads of the characters and added to the murky, psychological atmosphere. The back of the stage was shrouded in complete darkness, and in one of the most impressive creative aspects of the play, the characters often seemed to glide in and out of the back of the stage from behind a black curtain. Emerging only as dim shadows, they soon gained form as they approached the front of the stage, almost crawling out of the darkness. The effect was truly chilling, as characters often appeared onstage without any warning, always coming from the shadowy depths quietly unannounced. The characters often moved extremely slowly across the stage. While this often prolonged the pace of the play, it certainly heightened tension on stage and within the audience. This tension was aided by the play’s sound effects, done by sound designer Simalchik: Throughout the performance, a dull, mechanical buzzing permeated the entire theatre.

Aesthetically, the play was exceptionally effective. The acting was also particularly moving, with long pauses and scenes in which the characters’ performances blended reality with imagined scenes, like when three young women bearing the accusations of witchcraft menacingly crawled along the floor of the stage to prevent a fourth one from testifying against them. The actors opened the characters’ minds to the audience, allowing us to explore the dark recesses of their consciences. Eye contact was kept to a minimum between characters, exacerbating the clear feelings of mistrust and making those rare moments of clarity all the more poignant.

The Crucible was a deeply affecting and even more disturbing study of the psychology of fear and judgment and the lengths to which we will go to protect our own shameful pasts.