By Bob Evans
Arthur Miller’s tragic, gloomy, Gothic-inspired tale of witchcraft, lechery, murder, and blind religious justice–with a huge dose of ignorance– spelled the darkest days of American history when New England towns succumbed to a frenzied idea that witches walked among them, thereby creating public executions of persons accused of contracting with the devil.
The most famous American trials befell the town of Salem, Massachusetts, immortalized in Miller’s “The Crucible,” now playing at The Barn Playhouse in Mission, Kansas. Troubling, dark and dismal from the opening scenes, “The Crucible” only spirals deeper and darker with each scene as the story of adolescent girls pretend to summon evil spirits, dance naked, and drink chicken blood to cast spells on innocent townsfolk, causing the hangings of 19 “guilty” witches in their small town. Only decades after Miller’s work played world stages did the State of Massachusetts amend their judgments and pardon those accused and murdered as witches.
“The Crucible” at The Barn carves the story into the hearts of the audience so thoroughly and completely. Do not expect levity in this show because there is none. Miller researched the actual Salem court records and used much of the testimony verbatim in crafting his play. Even with the focus on one particular family, the devastation created continues to create shivers when viewed.
Luckily, Salem preserved their historic blunder and some cells that held the accused remain intact. Some chains remain attached to walls, and “The Crucible” and other such plays continue there for tourists who visit America’s most horrid injustices.
The horrors of Salem resurrect with the dedicated direction of David Martin and his co-director Steven Ansel. Their crafting of each character gave a different interpretation that the movies of the play. Assembling the perfect cast never hurts, and this cast excels. Expect high drama and spellbinding performances from Andy Penn as John Proctor, Jessica Franz as Elizabeth Proctor, Emma Cook as Mary Warren, Michael Juncker as Deputy Governor Danforth, and Lauren Hambleton as Abigail Williams. All presented chilling characterizations of real, historic persons. Strong supporting characters only added to the desperation of the play. Those superior performances came from Scott Shaw as Rev. Parris, Charles Christessen as Giles Corey, Phil Howard as Rev. Hale, and Dan Heinz as Thomas Putnam. The balance of the cast produced strong characters, but the script did not allow for much characterization or abundant lines.
Of the leads, Penn’s Proctor displays the anguish and guilt of the central character who needs to cleanse his spirit and maintain his name for fear of eternal damnation. Jessica Franz delivers a very outspoken Elizabeth Proctor who struggles with forgiveness for her husband’s wayward transgression. Emma Cook delivers probably the most horrifying performance of a troubled teenager as she struggles with her personal choices of truth and peer pressures. Michael Juncker wears the character of the hanging judge with force and well-intentioned, brainwashed injustice for the accused. Lauren Hambleton gives Abigail the right amount of flirtatiousness without stepping over the line from flirtatious to lewd.
Staging for “The Crucible” allowed for a simple but functional set, predominately in black and white to add more to the gloom of the 1690s and the drab life in Early America in a Puritanical society. Dramatic lighting and fog helped keep the story dismal. Costumes relayed the belief that colors and pride were demonic tools. All in all, every aspect of the story and the presentation signaled a phenomenal re-telling of the Salem Witch Trials.
The entire run of “The Crucible” deserves to be sold out. Every high schooler in the KC Metro needs to see this play, which is many times included in junior-level American literature classes. Adults who read or heard about Salem Witch Trials needs to attend as well and get a more intimate look at the shattered lives created by religious zealots and brain-dead justices.
The cast is: Camille Breckenridge, Elizabeth Booth; Richard J. Burt, Ezekiel Cheever; Elise Campagna, Susanna Walcott; Teddi Castillo, Rebecca Nurse; Victor Castillo, Francis Nurse; Charles Christessen, Giles Corey; Un Jon Christopher, Sarah Bibber; Emma Cook, Mary Warren; Lauren Crane, Ann Hubbard; Valerie Dykes, Ann Putnam/Sarah Good/Martha Corey; Jessica Franz, Elizabeth Proctor; Maura Graham, Beth Sheldon; Lauren Hambleton, Abigail Williams; Barbara Handy, Tituba; Dan Heinz, Thomas Putnam; Phil Howard, Rev. John Hale; David Innis, Judge Hawthorn; Sarah Jeter, Mercy Lewis; Michael Juncker, Deputy Governor Danforth; Sean Leistico; Marshall Herrick; Zoe London, Betty Parris; Andy Penn, John Proctor; Scott Shaw, Rev. Samuel Parris.
The production team is led by directors, David Martin and assistant director Steven Ansel James. Their team is: D.K. Evenson, stage manager; Steven Ansel James, set designer; Jenny Knecht wardrobe consultant; Valerie Martin, properties manager; Kaitlyn Burns, production intern; huck cling lighting design; David Martin, sound design; Alex Morale, graphic designer; Kaitlyn Buns, sound operator. Set construction was done by: Richard J. Burt, D.K. Evenson, Barbara Handy, Phil Howard, David Innis, Steven Ansel James, Michael Juncker, David Martin, Valerie Martin, Bill Wright, Jessica Franz, Jacob Lewis.
“The Crucible” runs through July 30 at The Barn Players Playhouse in Mission, Kansas. Advance ticketing is strongly suggested to avoid sold out performances. Tickets may be purchased through The Barn’s website.
Tags: The Barn Players, “The Crucible”, Salem Witch Trials, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment