Lindsay Mack, Daniel Damiano and the cast of The Crucible. Photo by Bella Muccari.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid production, especially once you get to the second act, that is worth the trip and price of admission.
The Gallery Players continues its 43rd season with Arthur Miller's gripping drama The Crucible. Over the past several decades, this Off-Off Broadway theatre (emphasis on the second 'Off'– it's located in Brooklyn), has gained a solid reputation for putting up quality productions. The Crucible, directed by Heather Siobhan Curran, is no exception. As with many Off-Off productions some of the performances are uneven, but the production value on the whole is very much above average. Most importantly, The Gallery Players brings to life one of the most exciting and well-written works in American theatre.
The Crucible earned the Tony Award for Best Play in 1953 and has seen several Broadway revivals; the most recent, in 2002, starred Laura Linney and Liam Neeson. While based on actual historical people and events of the 1692 Salem witch trials, the characters are fictionalized. Several girls, led by Abigail Williams (Lindsay Mack), prey on their town's fears by crying witch and accusing anyone they so choose. The town, filled with fear and hysteria, takes the girls' word as blind truth. One man, John Proctor (Gil Brady), knows the girls are lying and tries to save his wrongly accused wife Elizabeth (Rhyn McLemore), only to be accused himself. Miller wrote the play as a response to the McCarthy trials that took place during the 1940s-1950s, when the US government blacklisted anyone suspected of having communist ideals. (Miller himself was brought in for questioning in 1956.) This play is often taught in American high schools and universities for its groundbreaking literary allegory.
Admittedly, the first half of The Gallery Players production is a little lackluster. Daniel Damiano brings in some dry wit with his matter-of-fact Reverend John Hale. Unfortunately, almost everyone else seems to be in a different, very presentational play. Several cast members fail to own the words; rather than having real thoughts or reactions, they sound more like they are reading stilted lines from an unfamiliar era. By the second act however, everyone seems to warm into their performances.
Led by Brady, whose John Proctor is forgettable in the first act but explosive and heartfelt after intermission, the second act becomes an entirely new play. Damiano continues his solid performance, as his Reverend Hale turns from stoic businessman to adamant, then mournful, minister. McLemore brings passion, strength, and vulnerability to her Elizabeth Proctor from the start, and she carries these qualities through her entire performance. Other cast standouts include the conflicted and innocent portrayal of Mary Warren by Emily Hagburg, Tom Lawson Jr.'s bumbling Giles Corey, Gina Stahlnecker's simple Rebecca Nurse, and John Blaylock's appropriately aggravating and selfish Danforth.
Though the first act is weak, the second act really comes to life. And I can only assume this production will get stronger throughout the run. With The Crucible, The Gallery Players continues to uphold its reputation for producing quality theatre off the beaten path.
(The Crucible plays at The Gallery Players Theater, 199 14th St., between 4th and 5th Avenues in Brooklyn, through April 4. Performances are Thursdays at 8pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. The show runs 2 hours 50 mins, including a 15 minute intermission. Tickets are $18 for adults, $14 for Seniors and Children 12 and under and can be purchased by calling TheaterMania at 212.352.3101 or online at galleryplayers.com.)