The Crucible at the Abbey
The Abbey Theatre's current production of Arthur Miller's razor sharp allegorical play The Crucible, a complex piece of theatre, succeeds admirably with a finely dark and disturbing rendition of one of Miller's most cerebral plays.
The Crucible is fundamentally a diatribe against the empty logic of American communist hysteria in the 1950s known as McCarthyism. Miller's genius is to depict the manic communal hysteria of the Salem witch trials, wherein society rose into a ferocious act of religiously orchestrated cleansing, burning individuals who refused to admit they had conscious leanings toward Lucifer. Ironically, those who admitted to having such malevolent thoughts were allowed to live as they were thought to be making strides toward goodness by confessing. Miller evokes the tale on the back of a series of visits to the modern Salem's state archival department, where he received transcripts of the trials and placed together a narrative strongly representative of the individuals who made up the original inglorious events.
Patrick Mason and the Abbey have brought together an absorbing rendition of Miller's sparkling play script. Showcasing a vast shadowy stage bereft of complex scenery, Conor Murphy stages the scene in what can only be described as malevolence, which acts as a significant impetus to the story, drawing the audience inside Miller's dark, engrossing tale. Mason, at the same time, impels the cast forward in a thick ensemble drive toward the play's major theme; instead of highlighting specific characters and enunciating their story threads, he displays the focus of Miller's work through heavily choreographed set pieces.
Central to Miller's grand theme for The Crucible were his characters, specifically the depiction of the pragmatic farmer who was not to be caught up in this nonsensical hysterical diversion and distracted from everyday essentials. Miller brilliantly allows his central narrative to form around characters such as John Proctor and Giles Corey, who represent the average, working-class American who is too busy providing for his family to search his local neighbourhood for the wily communist insurgent. It is evident within The Crucible's narrative that the religious and judicial authorities (read: America's political system) represented by Reverend Parris and the turbulent Judge Hawthorne are blinded by the grandiosity of their own position, which mirrors eloquently the cast of individuals at the centre of the McCarthyist maelstrom of the American 1950s.
The direction and staging of the Abbey's production are thus assisted with undoubted weight by a series of superb performances. Declan Conlon (Proctor), Peter Hanly (Parris) and Ruth Negga (Abigail) function as a stunning triumvirate of dramatic flair, whipping up the audience in a frenzied chaos of admiration and disgust at the myriad actions which race through the plotting. The entire cast proves sufficiently skilled to infuse the production with the requisite dark materials, but it is the central trinity which coalesce in Mason's brooding version and form the outstanding qualities that when tacked to Miller's dialogue produce a stunning literary spectacle.
Over the course of a career spanning half a century, Miller exposed the dark crevasses of society in his own brand of beautifully fluent word art. He trims his dark plots and shoots out potent, angry, climatic conclusions in his collection of a number of the greatest plays ever committed to print. Encompassing A View from the Bridge, Death of a Salesman, and All My Sons (all produced regularly in Irish theatres), Miller's edgy tales interact with startlingly common depictions of family life.
A sprawling, intricate work, The Crucible is a difficult play to produce; however, the Abbey triumphs with its ominous and unsettling presentation.
The Crucible runs until 7 July 2007 at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin
Directed by Patrick Mason