The devil: Always in the details
By: Barbara Mackay
Special to The Washington Examiner

The first scene of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” gets down to business immediately: The Rev. Samuel Parris (Colin Smith) has seen some girls dancing naked in the moonlight, and now his daughter, Betty, is lying unconscious. Rumors have begun to circulate that Abigail Williams (Sarah Lasko) has seen the devil and that Satan is possessing many women.

One of Miller’s most searing dramas, “The Crucible,” playing at Keegan Theatre, looks at the broad, universal theme of honesty through the narrow lens of a particular time in history: the witch trials of Salem, Mass., in 1692.

With accusations and counteraccusations flying, a religious scholar named Rev. John Hale (Kevin Hasser) is brought in to try to scare the devil out of Betty, but to no avail.

One spectator on hand is a farmer named John Proctor (Mark A. Rhea), a married man who had a sexual liaison with Abigail six months earlier but who broke it off and has no interest in rekindling that flame. Abigail, however, has nothing but fire on her mind. Very soon the suspicion of witchcraft is launched at Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth (Karen Novack), and Elizabeth is thrown in chains and taken to jail.

The most brilliant aspect of “The Crucible” is the way that, in the face of logic and proof, illogic and lies are absolutely unstoppable. Once Abigail and her posse of young women begin to identify older women who they say have been “seen with the devil,” there is no way for John and Elizabeth Proctor and their friends to survive.

In the Keegan’s sensitive production, directed by Susan Marie Rhea, there are plenty of terrifying moments, primarily when Abigail and her supporters scream their accusations. There are also shades of gray among the black-and-white portraits of small-minded judges and simple, God-fearing farmers.

Mark Rhea’s Proctor is a bold, outspoken man, devoted to his wife and to his good name. It is Rhea’s ability to make Proctor simultaneously a hero and a victim that makes the production work. Novack is equally good as Elizabeth, turning in a powerful performance.

Lasko is masterful as the vicious, cunning Abigail. Rebecca Nurse is portrayed with nuanced strength by Carol Baker. Hasser is moving as the passionate Hale.

Often viewed as a parable about the McCarthy era and the atmosphere of fear and hysteria that surrounded it, “The Crucible” can be seen on that level or simply as a historical play. Either way, “The Crucible” is an extraordinarily perceptive play about personal integrity and a man’s relationship to his community, and the Keegan Theatre does justice to it.

» Read the review at Washington Examiner.com