The Crucible

By on 28 April, 2017 in Amanda Burbank, Art, Fun with 0 Comments

Leonard Cohen’s harsh rasp broke the silence and the near pitch black room was barely illuminated only by red hellfire-like light burning up from underneath the stage. From those opening moments, I felt the prickles of suspicion that the Cloverdale Playhouse’s production of The Crucible would be a different kind of theatrical experience. Then the shrieking, laughing, dancing girls came suddenly among us, unearthly in their post-apocalyptic rags. It happened so suddenly I didn’t know if we were caught with them, our hearts pounding in our chests, or if we (like Reverend Parris) had seen a flash of something for just a moment through the trees and surely our eyes deceived us.

The twirling girls caught in the damning act of dancing that would start the action of this story down its tremendously tragic path were mere steps away from me; I was there in the midst of their sin. This production is set up as a theater-in-the-round where the audience is a member of the community of Salem. I sat on a church pew next to Abigail Williams when she was accused of having been put out of the meeting house for laughter during prayer. I could see the flash of anger in her eyes and the stubborn jut of her chin. AUM student Amber Baldwin was truly fearful in her delivery of the vengeful Abby. The control that Abigail had over the girls that were her “friends” was displayed through the emotions she could evoke from them, especially evidenced when Faulkner student Alex Rikerd’s Mary Warren tried to escape the pack. Rikerd’s was one of many tragic emotional performances of the night, hers of a girl caught up in group-think, controlled by a vicious leader, whose courage to follow her conscience failed in the end.

These young actresses are a part of a very large and talented cast of community actors of all ages and range of experience, a lawyer, teachers, an IT consultant, to name a few. For a story about the members of a community self-destructing from greed and betrayal and suspicion, the production of the play was in fact the opposite. It was the coming together and building greater community among people who live side by side but might have never had the chance to interact if it hadn’t have been for this production. Director Sarah Adkins said that they had more than 70 tri-county residents come out to auditions. The cast has 20 members, many of them telling their own stories about salvation or damnation.

The Crucible is famously about John Proctor’s self doubt and personal discovery during the Salem witch trials and Kalonji Gilchrist takes on the intimidating role, delivering many impassioned speeches as he wrestles with “What is John Proctor?” His isn’t the only character to undergo deep transformation throughout the course of the play. His wife Elizabeth, played by Mariah Reilly, displays a wide range of emotion as appropriate for a woman in the midst of pregnancies and dealing with her husband’s infidelity. Reilly takes her character from fearful suspicion and cool bitterness in Act 2 through a gradual change that can be seen clearly in her face and demeanor not just her words of repentance to John just before his final scene. It is clear that this isn’t merely a story about a community caught up in frenzy, but it is a touching, relatable story about a woman and a man.

Marcus Chandler Clement was heart-wrenching as Reverend Hale, the passionate priest who came to Salem “like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion” but was transformed in the end to a desperate man costumed with his hands metaphorically tied. Endearing portrayals of Tituba and Giles Corey by Meghan Ducote and Tom Lawson, added moments of lightness to this soul searching play. While not losing sight of the gravity of the situations their individual characters faced, their unique personalities contributed colorful humanity to the bleak proceedings which were carefully constructed by their fellow actors, each playing their own part in setting the scene.

The physical scene was of an isolated farming village on the edge of a wild wood, each family isolated from each other, looking out for their own interests. When I looked up during the play, I saw the ceiling covered in twinkling lights and I imagined myself for a moment alone in that dark village on the edge of wilderness, bare before the heavens, the stars God’s silent witness to my own soul and every injustice I saw portrayed that night.

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible to speak to his audiences about their own times, to encourage them to look insightfully into their own lives, and to learn from the past. He reveals courage and honesty and goodness during a time when the world seemed to have gone mad. First time director Sarah Adkins has courageously tackled this timely and inspiring story, challenging her cast to keep Miller’s poetic language even as they reimagine these events in the distant future. She has not only brought the play to Montgomery, she has brought Montgomery into the play pulling us into the action as we sit among the cast feeling the fear and the tension and perhaps grappling with the magistrate that sits in our own hearts.

The Cloverdale Playhouse is located at 960 Cloverdale Road. There will be eight performances of the play running Thursday, April 27 through May 7. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m, and Sundays at 2 p.m.  Tickets range from $10 to $18. Call (334) 262-1530 for tickets.

Amanda Burbank is an observer, savorer, poet, artist, mother, wife, and lover of beauty and life. Unexpected events found her family living nestled in the deep south woods within a family home built by her great grandfather. From there, she works as a freelance writer and photographer. Her heart is to live a life of acceptance and perhaps help others to see beauty in the unlikely through well crafted words and photographs of lovely ordinary everyday moments. https://www.instagram.com/mandyburbank/

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