Reviewed by: Patty Nolan
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Halloween is a great time for spooky stories about ghosts, haunted houses, witches and goblins.
But the Bonstelle Theatre has opened its new season with a real witch story – the Tony Award-winning play “The Crucible” by world-renowned playwright Arthur Miller.
With this important American play, Miller used the hysteria surrounding the 1692 Salem witchcraft trials to draw analogies to the McCarthy-era trials in which people accused of being communists were forced to name colleagues or risk being black balled, having their careers destroyed, and is some cases, losing their personal freedom.
Miller’s classic play explores how the pious citizens of 1692 Salem were predisposed to believe that it was Satan himself who, using agents in the community, caused their babies to die, their crops to wilt, their hearts to lust, and their children to laugh in church. And when the paranoid Reverend Parris catches his niece Abigail Williams and several other young girls dancing around a fire in the woods, he is all too willing to believe Abigail’s accusations that members of the community have put them under a spell.
This Bonstelle production is brilliantly directed by Lavinia Hart
, who opens the play with an eerie look at the voodoo ritual being practiced by the young women in the village. The physical presence of evil is treated seriously, with the use of magical lighting and foreboding sound design, to orient the audience to the mindset of 17th Century Massachusetts.
Abigail quickly uses her new-found power to whip the community into a frenzy of mass-hysteria. Over time, as good people are brought to trial and executed without due process, those in charge become less willing to admit that they’ve been duped. And so, to prove that Satan walks in their midst, the courts require the accused to name fellow Satan worshipers, or face public execution. Quickly, it is the most devout people in the community who are imprisoned and executed, because they refuse to confess to the court’s lie, even to save their own necks. Ironically, at the end of the play, those who are unscathed by the witch trials are the most guilty.
Director Lavinia Hart comments, “In the face of corruption, we discover the distance some will be required to go in order to meet their responsibility to family, friends and society.”
Although it is easy for modern audiences to smugly condemn the superstitious residents of Salem, Miller clearly understood the real and present danger. As long as it is possible for mobs of frightened, paranoid people to blame someone else for their suffering, witch hunts will continue.
As we reach the final weeks of an especially ugly election year, we would all do well to treat smear campaigns with skepticism. Both political parties would have us believe that the other candidate is evil incarnate. But history shows us that the real evil is ignorance, fear, paranoia, hysteria, greed, pride, and jealousy. Miller would urge vigilance against those daemons.
WSU’s young Bonstelle Theatre ensemble brought a compelling performance to this difficult material. Mackenzie Conn was delightfully wicked as Abigail Williams; Colin Mallory struck the right balance of obsequious paranoia and self-righteousness as Rev. Parris; Jackson McLaskey was strong and empathetic as John Proctor; Nicholas Yocum, as Reverend Hale, takes us on an authentic spiritual journey as he realizes that the people he condemned on Abigail’s say-so are innocent; and Ivy Haralson brought lovely authenticity to the role of Barbados slave Tituba.
The cast also includes: Jacqueline Fenton (Allen Park, MI) as Susanna Walcott, Daniel Finn (Armada, MI) as Ezekiel Cheever, Jordan Fritz (River Rouge, MI) as Giles Corey, Amber Gale (Detroit, MI) as Girl 1, Robert J. Hammond (Troy, MI) as Willard, Shannon Hurst (Warren, MI) as Girl 4, Sharayah Johnson (Birch Run, MI) as Ann Putnam, Sara Kline (Royal Oak, MI) as Rebecca Nurse, Kelly Klopocinski (Sterling Heights, MI) as Elizabeth Proctor, Alyssa Lucas (Garden City, MI) as Mercy Lewis, Jackson McLaskey (Mt Clemens, MI) as John Proctor, Michael Meike (Clinton Twp) as Judge Danforth, Matthew Miazgowicz (Dearborn, MI) as Thomas Putnam, Yesmeen Mikhail (Wyandotte, MI) as Sarah Good, Malvina Mirowski (Sterling Heights, MI) as Betty Parris, Hope Morawa (Lincoln Park, MI) as Girl 3, Bryauna Perkins (Chesterfield, MI) as Hopkins and Girl 2, Aeisha Reese (Flint, MI) as Mary Warren, Laith Salim (Dearborn, MI) as Francis Nurse, Stuart Sturton (Dexter, MI) as Judge Hathorne, and The production team includes:
Director Lavinia Hart is supported by: Nicholas Boyd (Stage Manager), Anthony Karpinski (Scenic Designer), Fred Florkowski (Technical Director), Donna Buckley (Costume Designer), Gabriel Rice (Lighting Designer), Michael C. Thomas (Sound Designer), Cheryl Turski (Movement Coach), and Patrick Pozezinski (Publicity Manager).
“The Crucible” runs at the Bonstelle Theatre for two weekends only, closing Sunday October 21. Curtain time is at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, at 2 p.m. on Sundays. There will be a special morning performance on Thursday, October 18 at 10 a.m. Tickets are $12 – $15 and are available by calling the box office at 313-577-2960, visiting the Bonstelle website, or purchasing tickets at the Hilberry Theatre box office, located at 4743 Cass Avenue, at the corner of Hancock.