At the Darkhorse Theater

The Crucible

Elite Studio Works performed The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s play that is permanently on the nose in the best possible way, portraying the archetypal witch-hunt. Written in 1953 as a response to McCarthy’s anti-communist hysteria, it’s about the Salem Witch Trials. The play’s meaning is not limited to 1692 or 1953, but contains truths about hysteria, blame-shifting, and the willful blindness of authority, that are true in every place, age, and setting. It showcases individual and societal flaws and temptations that can break into damaging action when the situation presents itself. Sometimes the safety of external blame leads to a domino effect. Director E. G. Bailey’s note in the program said, “A play like The Crucible should put our society under a microscope. It should feel uncomfortably familiar, full of characters that feel recognizable in people you know, people you’ve seen on television, and maybe even in yourself. It should invite its audience to look introspectively and truly ask yourself what you would do in a situation like this. In this play, no one is the villain, yet everyone is the villain– from the protagonist to the by-standers.”

Elite Studio Works performed The Crucible October 13-21st at the Darkhorse Theatre. The location is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Located in Sylvan Park, it’s a brief walk from tasty restaurants (my friend and I ate at M. L Rose just two blocks away) and has Richland Park’s parking lot right across the street. The theatre is small but comfortable and every seat has a good view. The tickets were $25 with general seating and the water bottles only cost $1.

This was the first performance of the Elite Studio Works I’ve seen, and I was highly impressed. Their acting is quality. This long, dense, emotionally fraught play was performed with such palpable emotion that they had me pressing my arm against the wooden armrest of my chair out of tension; my arm was sore the next day. Abigail Williams, the teenager who starts the blame game in an attempt to kill the wife of the man she loves, was played by Alaina Bozarth. I liked the way she portrayed the character; she didn’t try to act creepy the entire time, although she certainly was creepy by the end. She brought naive bad-girl vibes; the sort of high-schooler who brags about shoplifting, drinking, and flirting with teachers. She felt more selfish than malicious at the beginning, and that she was slowly shrinking into the role she had made for herself.

Audrey Venable played Mary Warren excellently. The nervous girl, always on the outskirts of the trouble, plagued by guilt and fear, and without the strength to be fully bad or fully good, felt so real, and her nervous trembling while being shouted at in the courtroom were tragically pitiful. John Proctor was played by Michael Adcock with exactly the character that Miller describes in the play: “He was the kind of man– powerful of body, even-tempered, and not easily led– who cannot refuse support to partisans without drawing their deepest resentment. In Proctor’s presence a fool felt his foolishness instantly…” His role, calling for a balance of guilt and rightful discernment, was played with excellent emotion and not a hint of self-pity. Dustin Davis played Reverend John Hale, and was my favorite character. The clergyman who comes to look for witchcraft had the delightful vibe of a pediatrician; the one who is hopeful, clear, but doesn’t lie and tells you when things will hurt. His growing distrust in the entire witchhunt, and his disillusionment and grief for the part he played in it were somehow the most emotional for me. Who hasn’t been very sure of the way things work, has acted accordingly, and then later realized the actions had only hurt people?

Michael Adcock as John Proctor

Adapted very slightly, Elite Studio Works’ performance was set in 2045, “where religion rules the law of the land. Democracy is now dystopia.” Paradoxically, this timeless play is very specifically dated. The language is Miller’s beautifully real-sounding old-timey speech, women are called “Goody,” men hold all the power, they live off of pre-industrial farming, mention battles with Native Americans, and are Puritans. This cannot be shifted to a different setting the way Shakespeare’s plays so easily (and often helpfully) are. The vaguely rustic dystopia felt more like it was set in the Fallout video game franchise: a metal trashcan held a fire, old tires leaned against a wall, with vintage objects and a record player. Like Fallout, the soundtrack was pre-1950’s music. That part I enjoyed; I assume most productions of this stick to heavy-handed ominous instrumental music. Costumes were slightly inconsistent; plain suits, John Proctor had a old-fashioned rustic look (rather like Daniel Day-Lewis’s costume in the movie adaptation), a few dresses, but most women dressed in high-waisted pants with crop tops. I think either Puritan attire or some more modern interpretation with drab uniformity would have more seamlessly integrated with the nature of the play, although some of the variety helped clue in people’s characteristics. 

The only other aspect of the play that I think detracted was the casting of a woman for the role of Deputy Governor Danforth. The heavily patriarchal power dynamic of the Puritan town felt undone slightly; the vengeful use of the teen girls’ only taste (or hope) of power through using their bewitched condemnations of others seemed less plausible when the most powerful character in the play was a woman. Plus, they kept the script the same, so it felt a bit off when these Puritan fundamentalists kept calling the woman in heels “sir.” Lindsey Patrick-Wright, who played the role, did a fantastic job portraying a bureaucratic authoritarian who confuses her role with that of pure, abstract justice and refuses to even consider the possibility of mistake, condemning the suggestion as an affront against the notion of justice. 

Elite Studio Works chose an ambitious play and pulled it off with spirit and skill. The most impressive thing about the performance for me was the consistent quality of their acting across the cast, and the way scenes were kept fraught with tension. The moment when all the girls feign that Mary Warren is cursing them in the courtroom was well done and genuinely creepy. I’m sad that I was only able to attend their penultimate performance; I wish I could encourage readers to attend this show. This was their final play for the year, but the back of the program announced 5 Women Wearing the Same Dress and Frost Nixon as their 2024 season. For more information, see Elite Studio Works.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked as *