Review: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

Wednesday, May 4 2016
Walter Kerr Theater, New York, NY

Ben Whishaw, John Proctor
Sophie Okonedo, Elizabeth Proctor
Ciaran Hinds, Deputy Governor Danforth
Saoirse Ronan, Abigail Williams

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Original score by Philip Glass
Directed by Ivo van Hove

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Here at rachthree we mix it up once in a while.  Chamber music, Stravinsky, or, like tonight, theater.  Now I’m neither knowledgeable about nor interested in plays, so count my attendance at this production of The Crucible as a victory for its marketing, which has recent Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan front and center.  Ms. Ronan’s role as the chief accuser Abigail Williams is actually a supporting one, and although she was great–her stage presence is matched only by her screen presence–when you watch her, you don’t really see Abigail, you see Saoirse Ronan.  Ben Whishaw, on the other hand, completely disappears into John Proctor; he is the true revelation of this play.  Best performance, though, goes to a random but precious dog that opens the second act.

The premise of Arthur Miller’s play on the Salem Witch Trials is timelessly provocative (I remember studying it in eighth grade or some other lifetime ago), and even more so in this political climate.  Being completely dense about plays, however, I was so bored.  I mean, the acting was top notch all around and there were some cool tricks with the set–the creepy light displays through the large blackboard in the background, the atmospheric smoke, and the spectacle near the end–but sitting through three hours of a story that can be told in 30 minutes is too much.  Nevertheless, Philip Glass’s original score is terrific: not only is it thematic and increasingly chilling as the play progresses, it was actually pleasing to listen to in the sense that it doesn’t veer into modernity for the sake of pathology.  Otherwise, I spent basically the entire three hours trying to figure out when this instantiation of The Crucible is set.  Based on costumes, it seems to be contemporary, and that feels unrelatable until you think about what is happening in America today (by which I mean literally today).  Then it’s terrifying.

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