The Guthrie Theater's "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller

APRIL - MAY, 2014 | Guthrie Theater (Wurtele Thrust Stage) - Minneapolis, MN

Directed by Joe Dowling | Choreographed by Carl Flink

*2014 Twin Cities Star Tribune Top Ten Theatrical Productions*

Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible is a classic of the American theater, and dramatizes one of the greatest failings of the American, or rather pre-American, judicial system. During the infamous Salem witch trials of the late 17th Century, twenty people were put to death for the crime of witchcraft, following a long history of the execution of "witches" in Europe. Arthur Miller explores the larger themes of this horrible incident through a very personal story of one affected family, making the play at once intimate and epic. Despite being over 60 years old, the themes of religious fanaticism, mob mentality, and persecution of people who are different are sadly as current as they were during the McCarthy era when the play was written. The Guthrie's grand production of this classic with a cast chock-full of talent is truly something to behold. It's long and intense, but somehow the nearly three hours didn't feel long to me; I was engaged every minute by this compelling story and these beautifully flawed and human characters.

The story begins when the Reverend Parris discovers several young women, including his daughter Betty and niece Abigail, dancing in the woods. Yes, dancing! Betty is afflicted by a strange illness that is blamed on the family's Barbadian slave who is accused of conjuring spirits. In what amounts to a harmless prank gone horribly wrong (never underestimate the power of teenage girls), the girls continue to accuse more and more people of witchcraft, who are given the option of confessing or hanging. The whole thing spirals out of control and Abigail soon accuses her former employer/lover John Proctor's wife, an honest and well-respected woman. John attempts to defend his wife but is powerless against the mass hysteria that has overtaken the community. But somehow in the midst this devastating event, he's able to face the truth and become the best version of himself.

This is a huge play with many characters but just four long scenes, each of which is like a mini play in itself with several different segments and lots of people entering and exiting. All of it is beautifully orchestrated by the Guthrie's departing Artistic Director Joe Dowling. Joe has directed several Arthur Miller* plays at the Guthrie in his 20-year tenure, but this is his first time doing The Crucible here, and it's a beautiful swan song. The 20+ person cast truly is an embarrassment of riches. There are so many wonderful, experienced, beloved actors who pass through the story for just a moment or two. I'm wondering if some of them took the role just to be part of one of Joe Dowling's last productions at the Guthrie.**