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'Crucible' Pressure Built Effectively

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‘Crucible’ Pressure Built Effectively

By Ted Rancont

The Crucible reduced its audience to cinders last night as a randomly incandescent Civic Theater cast effectively built Arthur Miller’s pressure to the near-breaking point of pure, personal dissolution.

Like an inflexible pincer, the production closed from a slow first act to still-plodding second to thick and fast third and fourth acts that squeezed progressively tighter until it seemed impossible for John Proctor to remain an unbroken man.

Robert Green is a strong, human Proctor, bringing warm accent and wary subtlety to one of the most difficult roles in contemporary theater. He carried the second act nearly single-handed, after having lifted the first by his musical Welch-Irish accent from the “ready” quality with which it began. His moment of truth in the fourth act—the white-hot sinter point of Miller’s symbolic furnace — was. superbly soul-wrenching.

If Greene’s performance is a tour-de-force, however, those of several other actors in major roles are minor works of art.

Ramon Wisniewski is a powerful Governor Danforth, inspiring a fine mixture of pity and hate that any member of the un-American Activities Committee, at whom he is aimed, could do nothing but hate. Wisniewski achieves a delicate balance between authoritarianism and cowardice that is largely responsible for the building pressure of the second half of the production.

His twisted objectivity is beautifully counterbalanced by the brilliantly cool duplicity of Mary Ann Stevenson, who created the role of Abigail Williams with such effect that half the audience wanted to mount the proscenium and slap her face.

Jeannie Wong is an exciting Tituba. Her performance struck responsive chords of superstition and half-buried primeval instinct that made her auditors suddenly afraid of themselves.

Don Sandberg is “posey” but good as Thomas Putnam. He makes up in communicated solidity what he lacks in spontaneity, so that Putnam seems like half a dozen unbelievably unimaginative characters that we all know in real life.

Wihtred Cook was a delightful Giles Corey in the first act, but he lost his characterization in the second and third, disappointing pleasant expectations.

Michael Robbins developed an often fitting, but uneven characterization as the Rev. Hale’s inner conflict, written to be emotionally gripping, became an intriguing but intellectual exercise at Robbins’ hands.

Shirley Pengilly was only fair in the first part of the play as Elizabeth Proctor, but she blossomed in the fourth act into an assured and effective wife for Green’s John.

Thomas Moser began unconvincingly, added heat as he went along, and became Rev. Parris by the end of the fourth act. He left us satisfied but wishing he had warmed up sooner.

Carried along by the outstanding performance of the principals was a large cast of secondary characters unequal in many respects to the tasks at hand.

Sloppy light cues throughout the performance were also a distracting influence. At several points the lights were so late the principals had to look again to be certain they had followed the proper chalk lines.

But none of these small difficulties was enough to dilute the impact of a well-directed (by Don Lovell) production that left parts of its audience in tears of outrage.

The Civic Theater’s Crucible is a tough play compassionately treated.