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Trinity Rep bewitches audience in intimate performance

Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2011


The gravity of Trinity Repertory Company’s current staging of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” will stop you dead in your tracks. The production, directed by Brian McEleney, Head of the Brown/Trinity MFA Program in Acting, is driven by the power and compulsion of its cast.

“The dramatic action is incredibly intense — every character is plunged into a metaphorical crucible as they are forced to confront their essential selves,” McEleney wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

The play is set during the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692 and focuses on the connections and relationships between those accused of practicing witchcraft and their accusers.

The play’s protagonist, John Proctor (Stephen Thorne) is a dichotomy in himself, with much of the plot focused on his dual identity of sinner and saint. He quickly finds himself at the center of the accusation web, struggling with an adulterous secret that fans the fires of the witch hunt.

What begins as mere suspicion of witchcraft escalates over the two-and-a-half hour play — a constantly evolving imbroglio which leaves the audience feeling as if their own fate lies in the rope of the gallows.

A play of such emotional magnitude requires a cast of multiple power-players, and the Trinity Rep cast comes through with poise and clear delivery. The bellowing Judge Danforth (Fred Sullivan Jr.) instills fear into fellow characters and audience alike, with a stubbornness and monstrosity that renders him a force to be reckoned with. 

Audience members may find themselves slightly confused when several actors take on multiple roles. Though cast members announce their roles at the beginning of each act, audience members may still be disoriented when they see a recognizable face in a new role.

Actress Barbara Meek, though, has an extraordinary ability to make each of her characters distinct and unique, allowing the audience to forget she ever played another role. Meek plays the roles of a slave woman, a woman accused of witchcraft and a male judge.

Though the theater of Trinity Rep is intimate enough to bring the audience face to face with performers, the immediacy of the drama was further enhanced when cast members walked up and down the aisles, engaging in dialogue.

McEleney stressed this staging greatly during the climactic trial scene, continually placing the judge high in the audience while those on trial looked up at him from the stage far below, affording the audience no distractions from the scene’s heat. The energy and tension between the actors was tremendous.

The play is carried by these strong moments of acting. The set is relatively simple, set on the steps of Providence City Hall as a means of connecting the play to contemporary times, wrote McEleney. The costumes, too, are simple ­— stripping the play down to the essentials of acting and plot.

“When Arthur Miller wrote this play in 1952 he was responding to a contemporary political situation — the McCarthy-led Communist witch hunts — and was using the 1692 Salem witch trials as a way to think about what was happening in his own world,” McEleney wrote, adding that he hoped to connect the play to our contemporary world.

“I have tried to direct the play in a way in which the audience is invited to think about it, not merely as a historical drama, but as an immediate response to our own historical point in time,” wrote McEleney. We see the same selfless heroism on the streets of Cairo today, he wrote.

“It is (the play’s) immediacy, its remarkable aptness for our political moment and the way it speaks to us today that demands we return,” wrote Artistic Director Curt Columbus in the play’s program.

Trinity Rep’s production succeeds in rendering “The Crucible” a new and current play. The audience, filled with guilt — and eventual exoneration — is forced to question their own role in the trials.



Great acting, intimacy with the 

audience and a classic script combine to make this a play worth seeing.

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