More Frightening Than Witches: Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"

There are horrors in this world that aren’t supernatural or science fictional, but a lot scarier than we’d wish. Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE (playing through May 15 at Theatre Banshee, in Burbank) gives us a harrowing glimpse of the dark side of humanity through the living nightmare of the Salem Witch Trials. Directed by Sean Branney (famously associated, like a number of Banshee folk, with the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society), the play is a handsomely staged production with a strong cast and a subtle, evocative visual and sound design.

The action in CRUCIBLE centers on a group of troubled girls in Puritan Salem whose accusations of witchcraft and devil-worship spiral out of control into mass trials and hangings in which every good citizen is soon pointing the finger at their neighbor and crying out for their blood. The situation is further complicated by a simmering adulterous triangle between community pillar John Proctor (Shawn Savage, offering up sincerity and intensity in equal measures), his deeply wounded wife Elizabeth Proctor (a tightly controlled Karen Zumsteg) and the calculating ringleader of the girls crying “witch,” Abigail Williams (Sarah van der Pol). The entire narrative builds from a quiet calm to a shrill hysteria that is all too believable — the Banshee cast, including seasoned actors from both the United States and the U.K., delivers an assured and professional ensemble piece that evokes deep emotion and serious thought in the audience.

For all that the entire cast is solid, there are standouts, including Matt Foyer’s appropriate modern-feeling Reverend Parris (reminding us that we are not so far from Salem as we think), Hollie Hunt’s Tituba (who, as a slave, can only ever speak her true mind under accusation of witchcraft), Kevin Stidham as the well-meaning Minister Hale (proving the adage about good intentions and certain roads) and Vivian Kerr’s excellent turn as Mary Warren, who breaks with the other girls at almost the last possible moment.

The sets and costumes (by Arthur MacBride and Laura Brody, respectively) are perfectly suited to the subject matter and make an intimate space and modest budget feel grand. The low-key lighting and sound (by R. Christopher Stokes and Erik Hockman) complement the proceedings and underscore the mood nicely.

There are fears abroad in the world the other 364 nights a year besides Halloween, and THE CRUCIBLE uses the Salem Witches to give us a window into them… and into ourselves. See this powerful, thought-provoking production before it vanishes into history.

The Crucible at Theatre Banshee in Burbank, CA

Cast of the Crucible at Theatre Banshee