Review: ‘The Crucible’ at Silver Spring Stage

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Silver Spring Stage’s spectacular and engrossing show, The Crucible, under Director Craig Allen Mummey’s expert guidance, tackles many contentious subjects, including sexism, racism, religious intolerance and the nature of due process in the justice system—there’s a lot of meat for theater lovers to feast on here. The exceptional cast turned playwright Arthur Miller’s words into the stark reality that was Salem Village, Massachusetts in 1692.

The cast of The Crucible, now playing at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.
The cast of The Crucible, now playing at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.

Though Miller wrote the play as an allegory about McCarthyism, today’s audiences could bring their opinions about current events—from attacks on the press from the right or the #MeToo movement from the left—into the show.

Salem Village at that time was a center of contention from many different sources—refugees from King William’s War flooded the town, straining resources and exacerbating agitations between farming families and those who made their living from the local port. Onto that stage, stepped the Reverend Samuel Parris, whose 9-year-old daughter Elizabeth and 11-year-old niece Abigail began having hysterical fits which residents blamed on witchcraft (It is now believed that the fits were caused by the fungus ergot, which contaminated locally grown rye and wheat).

Elizabeth, Abigail and another girl, Ann Putnam, blamed three women for infecting them with a demonic influence: Tituba, the Parris’ Caribbean slave, and the impoverished Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. There followed over 200 accusations of witchcraft and 20 executions. The state of Massachusetts didn’t formally apologize for the incident until 1957—four years after The Crucible premiered.

Bill Hurlbut gave an award-worthy performance as the authoritarian and frightening Deputy-Governor Danforth, who conducted the witch trials. Hurlbut has won a WATCH award for best featured actor in Rockville Little Theatre’s (RLT) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Sporting a platinum-white, colonial man-wig, thanks to Costume and Hair Designer Maria Bissex, Hurlbut’s dictatorial voice and icy stare made Danforth a blustering villain. For Danforth, the residents of Salem where either “with this court or against it!”

Stuart Rick’s impassive demeanor and amusing one-liners livened up the bleak proceedings as hapless farmer Giles Corey who was one of those accused of witchcraft. Rick was WATCH nominated for RLT’s The Little Foxes.

Oh, the affinity between Joseph Coracle and Rebecca Cohen as married farmer John Proctor and ex-mistress Abigail. Their scenes raged with amorous intensity. Andrea Spitz brought weariness and angst to her role as Proctor’s wife Elizabeth.

Melanie A. Lawrence, out of Temple University School of Theater, brought depth to her role as Barbados-born Tituba. Erika Demske portrayed the allegedly possessed Betty Parris through her expressive body language. Tristan Poje, who has appeared on TV shows such as Veronica Mars and The Invisible Man, brought an irritating officiousness to the fire-and-brimstone-preaching Reverend Samuel Parris.

The excellent Omar LaTiri exhibited a wide character arc—from accuser to defender—as the Reverend John Hale. Hale brought down echoes of the #MeToo/due process controversy with his complaint about no man being safe from “a harlot’s cry.”

Lennie Magida made Rebecca Nurse a weary old lady, in trouble with the law. Joe Mariano (WATCH award, best actor for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Colonial Players of Annapolis) played wealthy witch-accuser Thomas Putnam with vivacity. I liked the energy Carl Maryott brought to Francis Nurse. Conor Scanlan excelled as clerk of the court Ezekiel Cheever. Alain Norman used superior body language in his limited-line role as Judge Hathorne.

Bill Dunbar’s minimalist set consisted of wooden joists, a raised floor-flat, a faux tree and various pieces of wooden furniture on a two-quarter thrust stage. Steve Deming’s light design included simulated lightning and on-time spotlighting.

Bissex’s costume design included impressive vests and buckled Colonial pilgrim shoes for the men, and white bonnets for the women. Properties Designer Jenna Ballard brought an impressive musket and a puppet to the stage, among other items. With timeless themes and great performances, Mummey and Silver Spring Stage have a triumph on their hands.

Running Time: Approximately three hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

The Crucible plays through November 17, 2018, at Silver Spring Stage – 10145 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 301-593-6036, or purchase them online.

Note: Silver Spring Stage suffered a flood two weeks ago, and is seeking donations for repair. You can donate using the following address: Silver Spring Stage Donations, P.O. Box 3086, Silver Spring, MD 20918.

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