Waterloo Region Record

In this Salem, empathy for the women

- CARLY MAGA Special to the Toronto Star

“The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s 1953 drama set during the 1690s witch trials in Salem, Mass., was famously written as an allegory for McCarthyis­m and the Red Scare.

Now, “The Crucible” responds to whatever oppressive forces are strongest at the moment it’s produced. Miller himself said “The Crucible” gets a spike in production­s “wherever a political coup appears imminent, or a dictatoria­l regime has just been overthrown.”

Actor Jonathan Goad makes his directoria­l debut at the Stratford Festival and delivers a solid, production.

The enduring appeal of the play has always been its cultural resonance, as well as its heartbreak­ing story of married couple John and Elizabeth Proctor trying to stay intact amid life-threatenin­g political chaos, rising paranoia and a breakdown of common sense.

But in a post-#MeToo Canada, how do we receive a play that warns us of the dangers of believing a group of young girls who say they’ve been abused and manipulate­d? Contempora­ry audiences may have unpreceden­ted empathy for the young women of Salem, grasping their first tastes of power and agency even when it careens out of their control — in particular, ringleader Abigail Williams (Katelyn McCulloch), whose sexuality poses the biggest threat to the moral code in Miller’s Salem.

The Stratford production begins ominously enough: Aviva Goad shows off her dance training as Betty Parris, the first of the girls to be mysterious­ly afflicted with a series of illnesses that spur speculatio­ns of witchcraft. She moves around her bed as if by supernatur­al means, into an Exorcist-inspired back bend. In Goad’s Salem, witchcraft potentiall­y exists.

The story begins without assuming the girls have fabricated the entire scenario for foolish, selfish reasons: to escape trouble from getting caught dancing in the woods by Betty’s father and Abigail’s uncle, Reverend Parris (Scott Wentworth).

Caught in the crosshairs in this first scene is Tituba (Ijeoma Emesowum), an infamously problemati­c character who is blamed for introducin­g charms and spells to the girls and then disappears from the narrative. A slave in the Parris household, Tituba’s powerlessn­ess against the accusation­s is given particular bite by Emesowum, unleashing her pent-up anger at being taken from her home.

Tempers and prayers are flying with the arrival of Reverend Hale (Rylan Wilkie) and the wealthy Putnams (Sean Arbuckle and Jessica B. Hill), who are convinced witches have cursed their daughter Ruth as well as seven babies who died at birth.

Abigail hijacks the fight in a deliberate move of either selfprotec­tion or spiteful revenge, or both, and suddenly a frightenin­g nugget of truth is set on its fatal course.

Goad’s production doesn’t try to make any large contempora­ry arguments. His direction simply allows powerful actors to explore the depths of their desperatio­n, anger and pride in admirable and despicable extremes.

Tim Campbell’s John Proctor is domineerin­g, raising his voice when he doesn’t get his way, particular­ly with Elizabeth (Shannon Taylor), who hasn’t forgotten his unfaithful­ness with Abigail. A combinatio­n of guilt and ego blinds him to the threat that Abigail poses, even as Elizabeth warns him, but watching their lives fall apart is nonetheles­s gut-wrenching.

Wilkie and Wentworth, regretting their parts in the ordeal, and Maria Vacratsis as the town’s moral backbone, Rebecca Nurse, refusing to waver in the face of death, are devastatin­g in the final scene.

Goad points a condemning finger toward forces beyond this group of young women, who are constantly handled by older men — they grab their arms, squeeze their mouths, press down on their necks in this extremely physical production. And even in their rebellion, there’s warmth and solidarity among the girls; when Abigail is called a whore and humiliated in public by the man who broke her heart, they all cry. It’s a reminder of their oppressive situation, despite the power they feel.

 ?? CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN ?? Abigail Williams (Katelyn McCulloch) is the ringleader of the young women in “The Crucible;” her sexuality poses the biggest threat to the moral code in Arhtur Miller’s Salem.
CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN Abigail Williams (Katelyn McCulloch) is the ringleader of the young women in “The Crucible;” her sexuality poses the biggest threat to the moral code in Arhtur Miller’s Salem.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada