St. Mary's produces riveting version of 'The Crucible'

October 25, 1990|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

An impressive rendition of "The Crucible," Arthur Miller's explosive denunciation of the Salem witch hunts of 1692, is being staged by students of the St. Mary's College theater department (St. Mary's City) through Sunday.

Director Michael Tolaydo has imbued his version with a riveting emotional power that keeps the audience on edge and arouses strong feelings of indignation, revulsion and horror.

Mass hysteria and guilt by association is the name of this political game as a group of incensed teen-age girls (under the influence of a superstitious West Indian servant) accuse local gentlewomen in 1692 Puritan Salem of practicing the dark arts of witchcraft.

Perhaps Miller's best play, "The Crucible" (a severe test) is actually based on historical people who participated in the Salem trials. During this shameful time, many people were imprisoned, tortured and hanged.

Miller's point in writing the play was not to comment harshly oreligious fanaticism but to use this theme as a metaphor to bitterly condemn the House Unamerican Activities Communist investigation led by the late Joseph McCarthy.

The play centers around Proctor, a simple farmer with a certain raw honesty, and his strong-minded, honorable wife, Elizabeth. The farmer was seduced by a local girl, 17-year-old Abigail. Proctor ends the affair but the angered Abigail denounces the wife as a witch.

The husband violently objects and both are charged as tools of the devil. If Proctor admits this charge, his life will be spared. But he makes the heroic decision not to corrupt his own integrity. This choice is his strength, not his weakness.

Tolaydo, a believer in cross-casting, has chosen a very talented cast and the result is an excellent ensemble piece. Kevin L. Patrick gives a nice, restrained performance as Proctor. Kelly Germain as his wife offers a delicately understated interpretation.

Tracy A. Wilson does well as the troublesome Abigail. Mark A. Rhoda (a community actor) is an admirably sensitive Rev. Hale, the witchcraft investigator who becomes convinced the accused are the victims of perfidious teens.

Kurt Gerard Heinlein gives a convincing performance as the iniquitous Rev. Parris and John J. Worley is outstanding as the deputy governor who turns the trials into a mockery of justice and religion.

The Everyman Theater, a new small professional company (they pay the actors and crew) is staging a trial similar in nature to "Crucible" in their arresting production of Milan Stitt's disturbing play "The Runner Stumbles," which is running at St. John's Church, 27th and St. Paul streets through Nov. 11.

Very well directed by Vincent Lancisi, the play concerns a priest on trial for the murder of a nun. This work is also based on fact; a Michigan murder case in 1911. A psychological mystery, the play tells of forbidden love between the priest and nun. It also raises interesting questions on the severe demands that religion imposes, which are at odds with individual freedom.

A repressed man, Father Rivard's rigid God is one that accepts no imperfections. Spirited Sister Rita's God embraces imperfection.

Enacted on a handsome slanted wooden stage the work still had not come all together at the preview. The pace was very slow and Kyle Prue, a good actor playing Father Rivard, was too stiff and not communicating the necessary dual emotions.

Carol Monda is a lovely Sister Rita, but too soft on line delivery. J. Martin McDonough Jr. delights as an old dog country lawyer digging up the murky facts. Celeste Lawson is a standout as the jealous housekeeper harboring a secret love for the priest.

Brian M. Applestein as the aggressive prosecuting attorney was too mild and hesitant on the preview night. Disappointing were the weak performances of Kenneth F. Hoke-Witherspoon and Equity actor Gene Morrill.

But this is a basically fine production that will only improve with subsequent performances.

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