MOUNT VERNON — Sixty years after its premier, Arthur Miller’s classic drama “The Crucible,” loosely based on the infamous Salem Witch Trials, endures as a relevant story. It comes to Mount Vernon this weekend with three performances presented by Right Brain Productions at ThePlace@TheWoodward on South Main Street.
Miller wrote “The Crucible” in the early 1950s. On the surface it’s a take on accusations of witchcraft that gripped Puritan Massachusetts in 1692. It’s also a metaphor for the excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Cold War-era investigations of alleged Soviet sympathizers. A talented young cast directed by Steven Meeker, who studies acting at Otterbein College, tackles Miller’s dark work in which lies and blind adherence to theocratic standards prove deadly.
Leading characters include John Proctor (Oberlin College freshman Walker Griggs), his wife, Elizabeth (Kenyon College freshman Stephanie Fongheiser) and John’s vengeful paramour Abigail Williams (Columbus State student Eleni Teegarden).
The ambitious Rev. Parris (Doug Reitsma) observes Abigail dancing in the woods with other girls and the slave Tituba (Rachel Downey). Suspicion of witchcraft builds when the girls fall ill, and a well-intentioned Rev. John Hale (Shawn Meeker) is summoned to investigate. Pride, jealousy, treachery and greed spiral out of control as Gov. Danforth (Steven Meeker) ruthlessly prosecutes all accused of consorting with the devil. The Proctors hope to conceal John’s affair and cheat the gallows, while Abigail schemes to implicate Elizabeth and win John back. In the poisoned atmosphere, reading the wrong book suffices to put one in chains.
Parris craves power and influence and Thomas Putnam (Logan Rennie) exploits the trials for personal gain. Defendants are given tainted opportunities to confess and avoid hanging but ruin their futures. Many confess, but 12 are executed.
The Proctors expose Abigail’s treachery, and doubts take hold in the community. But Danforth, in a sick twist of logic, decides it would be unfair to those executed not to carry out seven remaining sentences. Rev. Hale withdraws in protest, and the plot races to a conclusion with John Proctor’s life in the balance.
This interpretation of “The Crucible” juxtaposes 17th-century dialog and modern black-and-white costumes splashed with red accessories. Walker Griggs gives the lead role of John Proctor strong presence and has a voice custom made for the stage. He and Stephanie Fongheiser as Elizabeth Proctor capture a range of emotions as they struggle with past sins and future uncertainties. The greatest tension comes from his volatility and discomfort in intimate encounters with Eleni Teegarden as the unbalanced temptress Abigail.
Steven Meeker doesn’t appear until the final act, where his interactions as Gov. Danforth with the Proctors, Abigail and the Revs. Hale and Parris are pivotal. All of the players are equal to the task.
“The Crucible” will be performed Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at ThePlace@TheWoodward. Tickets are available from MTVarts.com or at the door.
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