Bedlam’s “The Crucible” Review – A Time not Unlike our own

The Cast of Bedlams THE CRUCIBLE Photo by Ashley Garrett
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 “The Crucible”  by Arthur Miller can be seen in a new production from Bedlam in association with the Nora at The Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th St. Manhattan, through December 29th. Directed by Eric Tucker, it features an ensemble consisting of: Alan Altschuler, Shirine Babb,.Rajesh Bose, Truett Felt ,Caroline Grogan,  Paul Lazar, Susannah Millonzi, Arash Mokhtar, Ryan Quinn, Randolph Curtis Rand, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, John Terry, & Eric Tucker.

Crucible: a place or occasion of severe test or trial- 2nd definition from the Oxford College Dictionary from the Latin crucibulum,’night lamp’ before the cross.

How this apt word applied in 1953 when this masterpiece from one of America’s leading dramatists premiered during the height of what ‘s come to be referred as “The McCarthy Period” is beyond dispute. How it continues to apply in the times we live in now seems to me to be connected by the virulent personality of an American who was deeply involved in the workings of Senator Joe McCarthy then, and was later instrumental in the instruction of thinking and behavior of our present Chief Magistrate. 

That person was Roy Cohn, chief counsel to the senator at his subsequent hearings. That he became a mentor to Donald J. Trump is well documented in the recent film, ‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?’ 

Cohn’s indifference to the truth allowed him, as McCarthy’s attack attorney (alongside, alas, Bobby Kennedy it’s only fair to include) in branding State Department officials, other government employees, celebrities as well as nonentities as “enemies of the state”.  After the senator’s ignominious censure in the Senate and his eventual demise from alcoholism, Cohn carved out a law career that would get mobsters free from murder charges and imbue the president to be to never apologize and/or admit to any wrongdoing, even in the form of a mistake. Cohn’s own demise was indeed not enviable, but the damage he did is beyond evaluation.

It was at these pivotal times then and now that the very concept of Truth came to be publicly on trial.  It was as such in the last decade of the 17th century in Salem, Massachusetts. 

Arthur Miller, who was called before congressional committees, even before the aforementioned senator began to make a name for himself as “a witch hunter” of communists, dutifully researched the records of these original witch trials to set up a mirror image of the madness that had taken over the core of our country. Lives were destroyed in both eras. Some literally by hanging. Some merely by destroying careers, with resultant suicides. Miller’s much preferred director of his plays at the time, Elia Kazan, had to be replaced in the original staging by the notorious, more than competent, yet still ” non-singing ” witness, Jed Harris, since Kazan became a “friendly witness”, who named names and consequently contributed to the destruction of several careers in film, radio. theater, and the new medium of television. 

Now, we’ve arrived at an occasion in our nation and the world at large no less dangerous, and may very well be more so. Hence I was eager to relish what this new production of what’s become in nearly seven decades an American classic by one of our truly great artists of the drama. I’m relieved to report that the virtues of the play prevail. This is despite a rather confusion of styles presented in the first fifteen minutes or so of Eric Tucker’s staging. This production,  which has been amply heralded by Boston critics in its initial presentation there weeks ago, is the product of New York’ s Bedlam Company in association with Nora from Boston, I presume. The confusion which my theatergoing companion and I experienced initially was a stark presentational opening of the play as though the Miller text was somehow translated by Bertold Brecht and then back into English. It appeared to be played in such a way as to foment laughs and have the audience adopt the Olympian view of observation devoid of empathy. Frankly, knowing that the play runs at least three hours, I feared that we were in for “a loooooong afternoon” at last Wednesdays’ matinee. And then, almost like a witch’s spell, the scene shifted to the first at home with John and Elizabeth Proctor, and lo, Miller’s voice became clear, simplicity and credibility reigned, and my friend and I were allowed to care about the goings on. Thankfully, it never let up.

For some reason, Bedlam merely lists the actors as Ensemble and neglects to designate which roles their highly capable players perform. Admittedly, some of them portray more than one role as is the case with many a production, particularly with classics. However, several actors played a singular role and are worthy of more than honorable mention. Certainly, Ryan Quinn’s John Proctor is one. And even though Susannah Millonzi is initially featured as the seemingly comatose Betty Parris in the Overture of the proceedings, it is as her quite moving rendering of Elizabeth Proctor that helps sustain the story’s telling and the pity that we’re allowed to feel. Paul Lazar’s Deputy Governor Danforth possesses the requisite authority for us to perceive how the unjust and inane can seem logical to the time and circumstance more than Devin Nunes was able to this past week of televised hearings of the House Intelligence Committee. And Eric Tucker, the nimble director of this production, accounts himself well as the Reverend John Hale who ultimately becomes acquainted with his conscience but  far, far too late.

” I show you the times”. is among my favorite lines by another master, Robert Bolt, spoken by Sir Thomas More in another historical drama of considerable renown. Bedlam and Nora has made an estimable effort in reflecting, through master Miller, what madness we apparently are bound to endure, from time, to time, to time.

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