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“The Crucible” Bewitches

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Courtesy of Paul Kennedy

I never considered myself the type of person who would prefer watching a play rather than a movie or a television show. But UCI’s Department of Drama may have changed that with their production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”

The introduction begins with a group of girls singing and chanting over a cauldron in the middle of the forest during the dead of night. Immediately after, the audience is taken into the home of Reverend Parris (Greg Beam), who saw his niece, Abigail (Kagiso Paynter), among the girls dancing. His daughter, Betty (Hannah Balagot), lies mute and still on her bed, so he berates Abigail on what exactly they were doing at night and whether it was witchcraft.

After many of the citizens of Salem hear about the suspicions of witchcraft, they come to Parris’ house to beg for answers. Leaving to address the crowd, the girls are finally alone. Abigail, who previously had an adulterous affair with John Proctor (Ryan Imhoff) and wants to kill his wife, Elizabeth (Kim McKean), instructs her posse to never reveal exactly what they were doing that night.

However, after Reverend Hale enters the scene, the girls are put on the spot and Abigail changes her story. She concocts lies about seeing different citizens walking with the devil and the other girls follow suit. Every name they utter is taken seriously and an arrest warrant is given out to those accused.

In the end, though, luck and justice is never on their side. Even after John reveals to the court his sin of adultery, they still believe he is trying to overthrow the court and they promptly throw him to jail and sentence him to hang.
Not much is cut out from the two hour and twenty minute production. The play is on the long side, but the adaptation does Miller’s masterpiece justice.

While the play mostly stays true to Miller’s script, the Department of Drama puts a few modern twists to it. Some of the language seems updated (the words “Oh, fart” and “Shut it!” are uttered), which allows it to be more understandable, without straying from the overall sense that the play is really taking place in the late 1600s.

With such a dark tone to the play, the humor is a welcome surprise. In the beginning, many of the characters are introduced by other actors through an aside. What makes it funny is their subjective attitude toward the character, which consequently affects their description. Abigail slyly calls John a “steady man,” only to add a “sinner with a smirk.” Giles attempts to explain Reverend Hale’s character, only to find himself stuck and forced to end with a shrug.

All the actors and actresses truly encapsulate the characters from Miller’s play. Kagiso Paynter does a remarkable job portraying Abigail, and Ryan Imhoff is superb at portraying the many internal struggles John is dealing with throughout the play.

However, it is Chris Klopatek’s portrayal of Giles that really completes the tragic play. He is funny when he needs to be, adding a light element to a play underscored with so much drama and heartbreak. Yet, when it comes to defending his accused wife, all you can do is pity him and hope with all your heart that the impossible will happen and he will prevail.

Dedicated fans of Miller’s work may find themselves scratching their heads at Judge Danforth. Described as a man by Miller, it is instead played by Alison Plott. While this is truthful to modern times, it detracts from the particular place and time in which the play is set. The 17th century was an era where women took no leading positions, most certainly not the judge of the highest court of Salem. It seems a bit contrived when a female judge seemingly from the 1600s is seen strictly ordering around the men of Salem.

This, however, should not minimize Plott’s influence on the play. Her portrayal of a powerful judge is brilliant and spot on.

Finally, the soundtrack of this play is what makes it truly incredible and a must-see. UCI’s very own Todd Hendricks composed the pieces specifically for the play. It is accented with a multitude of instruments, most notably the violin, and together, they combine to create a unique, breathtaking score. It is quietly, but effectively, incorporated into tense moments that leave the audience waiting to hear the character’s decision. But the best part is when it takes the principal spot during set changes – it hits all the right notes and is successful in building suspense, adding drama and keeping the audience captivated.
With top-notch performances from a splendid cast set to a brilliant score, “The Crucible” is enthralling and cannot be missed.