Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Review: ‘The Crucible’ favors volume over subtlety – Los Angeles Loyolan.
LMU’s theatre arts and dance department is currently in the middle of their run of “The Crucible,”Arthur Miller’s iconic play about the Salem witch trials. Written as an allegory for the ongoing Red Scare and the accusations of communism among Americans in hearings held by Senator Joe McCarthy, “The Crucible” is a staple of many English and theater departments in high schools and universities across the country.
The production, directed by Professor Nenad Pervan, is committed to wringing out every last moment of drama in the script, but does so in a heavy-handed manner that leaves the audience cold and tired after the cast has taken their final bow.
Throughout the performance, my one desire was to find a volume knob and twist it sharply downwards. If there were a knob for intensity, I would do the same. The whole show is simply over-the-top and overly long. At any point where there was a choice of loud versus soft or big versus small, Pervan seems to have chosen the bold, the brash and the bothersome.
Attempting to milk every moment of drama may have a temporary impact (scaring the audience into awe), but it comes at a serious cost. At least one major scene holds absolutely no power because it bears too much resemblance to all the other scenes preceding it: a lot of yelling and a lot of anger. It overdoses to the point where the supposed power scenes hold no power at all.
One particularly ill-advised scene comes near the end, which involves scare tactics and loud screaming. It simply doesn’t fit with the rest of the show and seems to have been thrown in just for the shock value. It shocks, yes, but it also annoys and colored my opinion of the production negatively.
This is obviously a talented cast with plenty of potential, yet most of it isn’t being used properly. Many of the female actors understand when to play up the drama and tone it down in ways their male counterparts don’t seem to understand. Emily Ludlow, a freshman theatre arts major, is particularly good, showing impressive range. Ludlow is aware that her character, Abigail Williams, is the clear antagonist, but she never attempts to gain the audience’s love in a way that would compromise the character.
Maddy Haderlein, a senior theatre arts major, plays cold incredibly well as Elizabeth Proctor, providing a strong counterpart to scene partner and fellow senior theatre arts major Devin Kasper. She, like Ludlow, never tries too hard to impress or dramatize. Elena Muslar, also a senior theatre arts major, isn’t given too much to do as Tituba, but she’s a highlight whenever she’s on stage. She isn’t afraid of being melodramatic, but she also knows how to avoid going overboard.
Several of the male actors do well in their roles: special kudos go to senior theatre arts major Jesse D. Arrow as Giles Corey, an absolute high-water mark. He’s incredibly fun and a breath of fresh air. But on the whole, the men are either underperforming (senior theatre arts major Connor Smith’s Thomas Putnam sounds a little sleepy) or doing nothing but ranting, raving and scene chewing. Part of this is the responsibility of the actors, but most of the fault falls on the director who didn’t guide them on how to better utilize their skills.
Special attention must be paid to the costuming by Gwynne Clark. The period detail is done to near perfection, with Abigail’s stark red outfit (signifying the great lust her character has buried deep within her) being a highlight. And the lighting, designed by Dan Washington, is impressive but at times overwhelming – one wishes the action onstage would be quieter so the truly superb lighting could be the star of the show.
It should be said that “The Crucible” has many wonderful elements to it that should draw you to the theater, but don’t be surprised if you’re left overwhelmed and unsatisfied. A good production has a lot of good elements. A great production utilizes those elements and brings them together in a really appealing, remarkable fashion. By that principle, “The Crucible” is a good production. But it is not a great one.