“Go and tell her she’s a whore!” Strong words for a 17th century Puritan woman. Clearly there is no order in the court, so to speak, as tensions run high in Infamous Commonwealth Theater’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic, The Crucible, now playing at Raven Theatre. Although set nearly 350 years ago, this infamous allegory of McCarthyism cautions against paranoia without cause and the importance of reputation and redemption as hundreds of “good Christian women” are accused of witchcraft without any hard evidence.
The story follows Abigail Williams who, against all Puritan dogma, dances for the devil with a small group of girls in the woods. When two of the girls suddenly fall ill and try to fly, the town assumes witchcraft. Abigail Williams and the group of girls accuse every man and woman who has ever wronged them of witchcraft; those who are convicted face death. The girls cause hysteria throughout the town as they condemn good, prominent members of the Puritan society. John Proctor, Abigail’s secret lover, finds himself in jail along with his pregnant wife. Many make false confessions to save their lives, but John Proctor refuses to soil his good name.
The production occupies a tiny stage furnished with simple, convincing set pieces that look straight out of the Salem Witch Museum. The costumes are similarly authentic, which is surprising considering the size of the production and troupe. Still, the play is not exactly a period piece, and Commonwealth’s talented troupe of actors successfully transcends its temporal surroundings. Their vivid performances highlight the sheer insanity of the situation, which makes it easy to see Miller’s allegory.
Abigail Williams, played by Elaine Ivy Harris, an Infamous Commonwealth newbie, captivates the audience with her stellar performance. Her realistic, near-professional acting is reminiscent of Winona Ryder’s performance in the same role in the 1996 film adaptation. Craig C. Thompson, who plays John Proctor, similarly shines in his performance as he vividly and convincingly highlights the importance Puritans placed on their good names and reputations. Yet one of the cast’s most shining moments comes when Tituba, played by Adrian Snow, undergoes her dramatic “conversion” from the world of Lucifer to that of the Holy Father.
While the play is lengthy—it runs just under three hours including intermission—it is unlikely that the average theatergoer will object as the troupe’s performance is consistently compelling. There were a few subtle departures from character, but the performance overall is worthy of praise. This jury rules The Crucible guilty of successfully providing a stimulating theatrical experience that calls on the audience to question what they hold true about redemption.