Review: The Crucible (Hart House Theatre)

Hart House stages The Crucible, now playing on the Toronto stage

Since its debut to the stage in 1953, The Crucible has never been a play that goes easy on its audience, and Hart House‘s version is no exception. However, on this journey to Salem, we pass by the historical realism typical of productions of this show, and instead drive straight into horror.

It was the political climate of his times that compelled playwright Arthur Miller to pen this show, specifically McCarthy Era paranoia. Likewise, it is staged today because of current events. However, this production doesn’t employ contemporary-looking design, and therefore, thankfully, doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence by making the modern-day political parallels obvious. However, while watching the people of Salem fall to mass hysteria and brutalize each other, it’s hard for modern-day idioms like “fake news” or “alternative facts” not to come to mind.

Director Michael Rubinstein’s vision for this show creates a timeless, eerie sensation, as if the characters and their struggles are the stuff of someone’s ghost story. Chris Penna’s rustic and enchanting set design, moody lighting by C.J. Astronomo and the creepy, lingering soundscape by Jeremy Hutton come together make us feel like something ungodly really could be preying on the town. The atmosphere allows us to get inside the heads of the characters and experience their fear and uncertainty. This does have some unfortunate political implications: if the witches are real (or if we’re making people believe they are), wouldn’t it justify the violence and hysteria that ultimately tears the town apart? Although I immensely enjoyed the production design, it may have unintentionally left an elephant in the room.

Although the play’s subject matter is topical, this doesn’t necessarily make it easier to perform, and the cast deserve hearty recognition for their labours. It takes an ensemble with a lot of discipline and trust to maneuver this play’s text and subtext, especially with how physically involved this staging happened to be. Jon Berrie’s John Proctor is carried by the uncut, genuine anger he feels as someone exploited by those in power. The chemistry between him and Elizabeth, played by Melissa Taylor, is heartfelt and tragic amid the world going mad around them. Thomas Gough’s take on Giles Corey is delightful as well; his delivery has a surprisingly dry humour that leaves us rooting for him.

This Crucible is for theatre audiences that have changed since the 1950’s, but a world that hasn’t much since the 1690’s. While it isn’t your grandpa’s realist drama, the emotional journey of this show is no less tempestuous. Suffice it to say, Hart House didn’t pull their punches for this one.

Details:

  • The Crucible is on until February 3 at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle)
  • Shows are Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm
  • Tickets are $12 – $28
  • Tickets available online, by phone at 416-978-8849 or by visiting the box office
  • This show uses strobe light and fog effects

Photo by Scott Gorman featuring Jon Berrie as John Proctor, Melissa Taylor as Elizabeth Proctor.

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