The only two words dustier than "Arthur Miller" are "The Crucible," partly because everybody remembers being sort of bored by the play in high school, partly because it's one of the most-produced plays in America, and partly because the film version was...unmemorable. All I recall from watching it long ago is Daniel Day-Lewis in Pilgrim clothes standing in a wood cabin and just breathing a lot.
But ACT's production of The Crucible, directed by John Langs—wonderfully previewed by my colleague Sean Nelson, and running in ACT's Falls Theatre through November 12—is so good that it makes me want to use all the clichéd phrases that PR people like to clip from reviews and paste on billboards and follow-up press releases. "Stirring!" "Thrilling!" "This is most necessary urgent play we need right now more than ever 4 lyfe!" "Before today there was a world where ACT's production of The Crucible didn't exist, and that world was a duller, lonelier place." <— Have at it, you marketing assholes.
You should see the play because the story is better than you remembered in almost every aspect. See it because there isn't one weak link in the ensemble. Sylvie Davidson's Abigail Williams was amazing for reasons I'll get into later. Paul Morgan Stetler's John Proctor took a scene to warm up, but once he did I was on his side the whole time. Khanh Doan's rocksteady Elizabeth Proctor made me believe in the possibility of true goodness again. There are sixteen actors in the cast, and they were all working at the height of their powers.
See it because in Burien bigoted vigilante groups like "Respect Washington" are posting flyers that list the suspected addresses of alleged undocumented workers. And because murderous Nazis spend their long, pathetic days making false accusations about women who work in the video game industry in an attempt to get them fired. And yes, see it because of the circulating lists of alleged sexual predators working in specific industries. Though, it's worth thinking a little harder about that connection in particular.
It is possible, though extremely unlikely, that some of the men on these lists have been falsely accused of sexual harassment and assault. But, as I said on Blabbermouth two weeks ago, when a society fails to adjudicate or otherwise seriously address the amount of violence and the number of crimes endured by any given class, (in this case all women, several men, and non-binary people), those victims will find a way to tell their truth. And it should surprise to zero people when those victims don't tell their truth on society's terms. They're going to do it on their own terms. And if some innocent men get scooped up in the process, that injustice lies not at the feet of the accusers but at the feet of an unfair criminal justice system and of a society that's been so permissive of sexist behavior and sexual predation for so long.
Davies's confident, driven, and frankly extremely thirsty Abigail helps us see this. Her false accusations are inexcusable. They lead to the arrest and execution of dozens of citizens and the town's subsequent economic collapse. But they derive from her understanding of the way power operates in town.
We must remember, as choreographer Kaitlin McCarthy mentions in Sean Nelson's preview of the show, that Abigail "seems like a manipulative femme fatale, but on closer inspection she's an orphan who is seduced by her employer, a man twice her age who then dumps, fires, and threatens her with beatings." And Abigail's accusations only really become deadly once witch-hunter supreme Reverend John Hale (played by Avery Clark) threatens to cleanse the entire town of "bad spirits" if he has to, and this following a call from Reverend Parris, played with appropriate sleaze and worminess by MJ Sieber, who was just trying to cover his ass and not lose another preacher gig in the first place. Her false accusations are further inflamed by a corrupt court system, embodied by Deputy Governor Danforth (played by a wonderfully secretly sinister Kurt Beattie), that would rather bend the law than break a narrative that serves its own interests. Everybody has blood on their hands in this thing, not just the young women in the spotlight.
I will say, though, a few directorial decisions fell flat. A melodramatic gesture involving a rope at the end of ACT 1 struck me as a little goofy, and the decision to wheel televisions into the courtroom for Mary Warren's interrogation felt not entirely thought out. I understand the production wants to look contemporary but also kind of ~timeless~, and I also felt like some move needed to be made to heighten the drama of the procedural, but I couldn't make sense of the logic. TVs in the courtroom are used in the way Langs used them when the defendant can't be there, and the most immediate—or at least most jarring—recent example of that sort was the trial of mass-murdering racist Dylan Roof. Mary Warren, who was played by Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako, wasn't violent like Roof. I could see the TVs signifying a larger television audience, but they were angled at the theater audience, and so suddenly the logic of being an audience member shifted, and it was like whatever okay everyone gets that The Crucible is an allegory about what's happening in society RIGHT NOW, you don't have to bang us over the head with flat screen televisions to prove that point, Langs! Okay, rant over. Now go see the play!