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Life Monday, March 14, 2005
Pentacle's 'The Crucible' is first rate

March 14, 2005

Watching Pentacle Theatre's production of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" on opening night Friday, you couldn't help but think of how hard it still is to stand up to injustice and the cost of speaking your mind about a popular cause.

That's why Miller's powerful drama has endured beyond its roots in the playwright's own harrowing experience with the McCarthyism of the 1950s and found currency in every decade since then.

Pentacle's production, directed with a passionate appreciation by Pamela Abernethy, is a little ragged around the edges, a bit weak in its supporting roles, but the central characters are well cast and Miller's timeless voice comes through true and clear.

The author set his play at a safe remove, in the Salem Witch Trial of 1692 Massachusetts, but he expressed the issues in terms that are not rooted in any particular era.

The dramatic conflict in the play comes from a paranoid and fractious society that represses its young people, at what proves to be astonishing cost.

Young Abigail Williams (Molly McHugh), the niece of the community's callow minister, Samuel Parris (Jeff Brownson), has been cavorting in the woods with her friends, egged on by slave Tituba (Chasity Malatesta), who practices rituals that suggest witchcraft.

Samuel calls in Rev. John Hale (Jeff Baer) when Abigail's cousin, Betty (Desi Friesen), falls into an apparent coma, and soon the talk is of witchcraft, all fanned by greed, jealousy and superstition.

Abigail becomes the ringleader, leading the girls in wild accusations against members of the community, her behavior fed by her jealousy of Elizabeth Proctor (Patricia Ullman), whose husband, farmer John Proctor (Don Williamson), Abigail seduced.

As dozens of people are imprisoned and executions begin, thanks to a court led by Deputy Gov. Danforth (Randy Bowser), who cares more about his authority than justice, the menace reaches John Proctor, who must embrace either a lie or the truth.

Miller keeps much of the madness offstage, keeping the focus on the people, both innocent and guilty, caught up in the insanity.

John Proctor, played with an earthy integrity by Williamson, is the backbone of the play, but its conscience resides in Hale, and Baer beautifully evokes a pious and conscientious man who gradually awakens to the hideous wrong.

Danforth, played with a smarmy effectiveness by Bowser, embodies the self-protective nature of a society that cares less about legal process and the essence of right and wrong than it does keeping control.

Watching Danforth squash all legal processes and independent voices is a potent reminder of why people are afraid to exercise their rights in a time of war or other perceived outside threat.

Also notable in the large cast of 20 is McHugh, a young actress with considerable presence and range. In her first scene she ranges from innocent to vicious and then seductive, without missing a beat.

Malatesta is an electrifying presence in her scenes, and Ullman, who seems chilly at first as Elizabeth, attains an integrity and emotional power.

Also notable are Brownson, who gives us a man who makes our skin crawl, and Robert Herzog, who injects both humor and gravity in the play, as crotchety old Giles Corey.

Tony Zandol's set is effectively understated in its period detail, although the costumes by Alexa and Sandy Gray are a bit too nice.

Abernethy has crafted this all with skill, building rousing scenes and underscoring the emotional truths that rule "The Crucible."


'The Crucible'

When: 8:15 p.m. Friday-Saturday and March 25-26, April 1-2; 7:15 p.m. Thursday and March 23-24, 27 and 30-31; 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Pentacle Theatre, 324 52nd Ave. NW, Salem

Cost: $15 Fridays-Saturdays and Sunday matinee; $14 other shows

Call: (503) 485-4300

Copyright 2005 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon

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