In seeing Ivo van Hove’s desecration of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, I wanted to scream “The Crucible has no clothes.” This 1953 rival of Miller’s classic drama about the 17th-century Salem witch trials, written as his response to the McCarthy Trials has been all, but blown apart. In van Hove’s version you will not have a clue at where you really are. The language, the set, the costumes, the accents and the God forsaken score by Philip Glass all play against each other. Nothing makes sense unless what I was suppose to be seeing was the death of this great play, which happens to be one of my favorite pieces of theatre and in 1953 it won the theatre’s highest honor, a Tony.
Lets start with the language; Abagail at one point states the word “Posh.” John Proctor states “God is Gay”and a lot of the text has either been negated or moved around. There is not credit for this rewrite and yet we are told it is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It is not, it has been rewritten.
The set by Jan Versweyveld, is like the basement of some kind of reform school. To the audience a chalkboard that is used supernaturally with rows of wooden desks. To stage left windows that open up to allow the wind to blow in the garbage, fog and what ever the “Exorcists” left out. Here they use paper coffee cups, in a time where there were none.
The costumes by Wojciech Dziedzic, are borderline Catholic school girl uniforms and the rest get shapeless gray, rust, brown and black linen gunny sack looking pieces. Truly ugly, not that the style back then was any better, but what time frame am I suppose to be in? Certainly not 1692, which is how the text is written.
In the original we were set in Puritan New England in Salem, Massachusetts, a group of girls has gone dancing in the forest with a black slave named Tituba (Jenny Jules). While dancing, they are caught by the local minister, Reverend Parris (Jason Butler Harner) and Parris’s daughter Betty (Elizabeth Tetter), has fallen into a coma-like state. Rumors of witchcraft fill the town and they send for Reverend Hale ( a very good Bill Camp), an expert on witchcraft, Parris questions Abigail Williams (a superb Saoirse Ronan), who does not want to get caught, tells the other girls, not to admit to anything. Enter John Proctor (Ben Whishaw), a local farmer, who the year before had an affair with Abigail, which led to her being fired by his wife, Elizabeth (Sophie Okonedo). Abigail still desires Proctor, but he tells her it is over. When Reverend Hale enters and goes after Tituba, Abagail and the girls start naming names.
Later, John and Elizabeth discuss the trials as Elizabeth urges her husband to denounce Abigail. When he refuses, and she becomes jealous and accuses him of still harboring feelings for her. Mary Warren ( a wonderful Tavi Gevinson), their servant and one of Abigail’s circle, returns from Salem with news that Elizabeth has been accused of witchcraft. Reverend Hale comes to call as Giles Corey ( the heartbreaking Jim Norton) and Francis Nurse (Ray Anthony Thomas) come to the Proctor home with news that their wives have been arrested. Elizabeth is arrested and Proctor gets Mary to expose Abigail and the other girls.
In court Proctor tells the Governor Danforth (Ciaran Hinds) about the affair and Elizabeth is summoned. When asked if Proctor has been unfaithful, she lies to protect Proctor’s honor, and damns them both. Mary breaks down and accuses Proctor of being a witch.
Time has passed and the number of people to be hanged has grown. Abigail has left town and Danforth (now Hale), asks Elizabeth to talk John into confessing. He does, but when asked to incriminate others he refuses and goes to be hung.
One of the themes of the play is infidelity, betrayal and the matter of goodness. Sophie Okonedo as Elizabeth is just miscast or horribly misdirected. She speaks with a British accent that makes her sound like Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady. In the beginning she acts and seems daft, yet becomes more of herself as the play goes on. This is a women who has never believed herself worthy of John’s love. In part it was her coldness that pushed him away and into the manipulative Abigail’s arms. The tragedy is that John has never felt good enough for Elizabeth until the end. Thier final scene should make you want to weep with the grief of that, instead the audience was laughing.
There is no sexual chemistry to Whishaw performance, so the triangle makes no sense.
Steven Hoggett, director of stage movement, makes sure we are in “Exorcists” or “Carrie” mode. Creepy and great in a play about real witchcraft.
Philip Glass’s music was so annoying I know of at least 5 people who left the theater because they could not stand it. It neither enhanced the script nor set a mood. Most of the time it went against the emotions of the scene.
As for Ivo van Hove he should ride off on the wolf (dog) he added into this once favorite play. I didn’t just dislike this production, I hated it. This director is not the be all and end all of American Theatre and the EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES!
The Crucible: Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th St.