Monday, September 8, 2014

The Crucible—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR

A Vessel For Madness

Arthur Miller’s intense drama set in the time of the Salem Witch trials is being produced at the historic, Venetian Theatre at 253 E. Main St.  It is directed and adapted by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director) and will play through September 29th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-345-9590.

I believe one must begin this journey by defining the title of the play.  A crucible is a cup or vessel that melts metals at high temperatures or a severe test or trial.  Such is the historic setting for this play in and around a puritanical Salem, MA in the late 1600’s.  But it is not so much about witches in our midst but about Intolerance and what it does to a society.  In short, “this way lies madness.”  And when the mob mentality of foolish, vain, greedy people becomes the accepted way of progress, then woe be to the individuals who dare speak out against them.

More deaths have been attributed in the lap of Intolerance than probably any other single factor in history.   The Crusades were waged to make everybody Christian; enslaving the Blacks was accepted because they were thought to not really be human; interring the Japanese was okay because they were the color of our enemy at one time; putting Native Americans onto reservations was condoned because they were regarded as savages or like children; Jews were put into concentration camps because they were not of a pure, Aryan blood; Gays are ridiculed because of their sexual orientation; the Middle East conflicts exist, in part, because their society is not all of the same religious persuasion; political ideology between Nations causes friction to the point of War; and political factions within a country exist in order to force everybody to believe only one way.  In short, Intolerance of other ways of looking at things and fear of anything that is not exactly like “us,” prevents a peaceful coexistence.

And so, to Salem.  In this small town, small minded world, everybody is at each other’s throats.  It is a tinderbox, just waiting for a match.  And it is lit by a group of young girls (Melory Mirashrafi, Madeline Ogden, Emily Upton, Hanna Brumley and Arianne Jacques), throwing off the yoke of the repression (as teenagers will do), and dancing in the woods at night with Tituba (Alexandria Morgan), a native of Barbados.  But this doesn’t sit well with the founding fathers (and mothers), who are having a rather hard year financially and just aching to point the finger at someone or something as the cause.

The religious factions, in the guise of Rev. Parris (Jeremy Southward) and Rev. Hale (Jake Street), quickly come to the conclusion that it is the devil that is the cause of all their ills, manifest through some human agents, and so a witch hunt ensues.  And it does not go well when it is discovered that the independent-minded Proctor (Peter Schuyler) and his estranged wife, Elizabeth (Jessica Geffen), seem to be “somewhat-mentioned” as possible cohorts of Lucifer.  Further complications arise when it is discovered that one of the girls, Abby (Jacques) has had carnal relations with Proctor.

Things go from bad to worse when the highly-reputed, Judge Danforth (David Heath), presides at the trial.  Needless to say, things do to not turn out well for a number of people…but telling any more who spoil the ending.  The connection to the McCarthy hearings, as to Communists within our midst (never mind that the Constitution gives one the right to believe as they will) and the black list are unmistakable.  Pointing fingers and naming names were part of the game during the 50’s.  Miller and many of his colleagues were caught up in this madness.

This production has a power and drive to it, especially in the second act, thanks to Palmer (and Cassie Greer, a talented artist herself, as acting coach) as the captain(s) of this wayward ship.  The modern dress and simple staging added to the power of the show, giving it a timeless quality.  And a tribute to the actual time period was enhanced by the authentic-sounding accents and the screen projection (I assume, by the scenic designer, Megan Wilkerson).  Very effective presentation on all counts.

The young girls in this show are very intense roles and are beautifully performed by the group mentioned above.  Especially powerful was Geffen as the long-suffering wife.  I’ve seen this young lady encompass roles before and she is always very intense and focused on her character (and, also, much more attractive than she appears in this role but, that’s what you call, good acting).

Also on the top of his form is Heath as the ruling judge.  He harkens back to the 90’s in Portland theatre (in which I, too, was an actor).  And his power as an actor in Act II, pretty much carries the drama of the proceedings.  A super performance!

I would recommend this show but, be warned, it is very intense and may not be suitable for all.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

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