Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 17, $42-$228.60
Director-of-the-moment Ivo van Hove follows up his riveting version of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge with a strange, powerful, problematic take on Miller’s Tony-winning 1953 play, The Crucible. Part of the centennial celebration of Miller’s birth that also included last year’s production of Incident at Vichy at the Signature, The Crucible explores the 1692 Salem witch trials through a context informed by the communist witch hunt of the House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1940s and ’50s. Miller based the play on actual events recorded in the seventeenth century, although he changed many of the details of the real-life characters. In Salem, Betty Parris (Elizabeth Teeter) is in a catatonic state following an evening that might have involved magic and witchcraft in the woods with her friends Abigail Williams (Saoirse Ronan), Susanna Walcott (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut), Mercy Lewis (Erin Wilhelmi), and Mary Warren (Tavi Gevinson). “There be no unnatural cause here,” claims Reverend Samuel Parris (Jason Butler Harner), the local priest and Betty’s uncle, who does not want to believe that this was the devil’s work. He sends for Reverend John Hale (Bill Camp) to back him up. “A precaution only,” Parris says. “He has much experience in all demonic arts.” However, wealthy landowner Thomas Putnam (Thomas Jay Ryan) and his wife, Anna (Tina Benko), who have lost seven babies, are sure that “vengeful spirits” are at work and insist that Parris investigate it as such. Meanwhile, town curmudgeon Giles Corey (Jim Norton) thinks that the Putnams are merely after his land, while Corey’s friend, John Proctor (Ben Whishaw), gets caught in the maelstrom of accusation and emotion, as the otherwise steadfast gentleman may or may not have had an affair with Abigail, his former maid, who was let go by his wife, Elizabeth (Sophie Okonedo). And many eyes turn toward Tituba (Jenny Jules), Parris’s slave from Barbados. “You are God’s instrument put in our hands to discover the Devil’s agents among us,” Hale tells her. When the judge, Deputy Governor Danforth (Ciarán Hinds), arrives, he’s sure that evil is at hand, boasting that four hundred witches are in jail because of him, seventy-two condemned to hang. Even as evidence comes out that supports that there was no witchcraft, Danforth remains determined to force people to name names so he can have them arrested and hanged. “There is a prodigious guilt in the country,” he boldly declares. “Reproach me not with the fear in the country; there is fear in the country because there is a moving plot to topple Christ in the country!”
Belgian director van Hove is often hit-or-miss with his shows, which in the last few years in New York City have included David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s Lazarus, adaptations of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Scenes from a Marriage, and Sophocles’s Antigone. While A View from the Bridge was innovative and dynamic, Antigone was confusing and surprisingly lifeless; The Crucible falls somewhere in between. The set, by longtime van Hove collaborator Jan Versweyveld, is head-scratchingly odd, an old schoolroom with twentieth-century overhead lighting and a blackboard on which Tal Yarden’s abstract images are projected at one point. Wojciech Dziedzic’s costumes also mix the seventeenth century with the modern era; if the goal is to relate the witch trials to what is going on in the world today, it doesn’t quite work, since those elements are already part of Miller’s words and don’t benefit from such further obscuration. Philip Glass’s music is pleasurable but unnecessary, and the acting is inconsistent; while Ronan (Brooklyn, The Seagull), Camp (Death of a Salesman, Homebody/Kabul), Norton (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Seafarer), and Gevinson (This Is Our Youth, Enough Said) excel in their roles, Whishaw (His Dark Materials, In the Heart of the Sea) is rather static, Michael Braun (War Horse, Bad Guys) as Danforth’s right-hand man, Ezekiel Cheever, is too one-note, and Hinds (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Closer) seems lost at times, courtesy of Steven Hoggett’s crowded movement, often speaking with his back or side to the audience, making it hard to hear what he is saying. Fifty-three years after its Broadway debut, in a Tony-winning production starring E. G. Marshall, Beatrice Straight, and Arthur Kennedy, and fourteen years after its Tony-nominated 2002 Broadway revival with Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, and Kristen Bell, The Crucible feels today most relevant in its depiction of the religious nature of evil, with fundamentalists around the world responsible for so much violence and hatred and America in a constant debate over church versus state. Van Hove’s staging muddies various themes, resulting in a somewhat lukewarm rendering of a heated tale.