She’s a Witch!
By Andy Cheng
Yes, it’s The Crucible in theatre form. Most Californians wouldn’t know, having read The Crucible as a literary text in high school, that the 1952 play by Arthur Miller originated as a theatrical allegory to America’s post-war fear of communism (those daunting days of McCarthyism and colorless television . . . just awful!). Since then, the play has been performed countless times, and is heralded as one of the most revolutionary plays ever, having won the Tony Award for Best Drama in 1953. The Inland Empire, of course, isn’t excluded from this classic, as the Inland Stage Company brings this slice of American history to the stage.
For those people who were left behind as a child in school, The Crucible’s narrative pertains to the pre-Revolutionary period, in which denizens of colonial Massachusetts were so afraid of Native American attacks and big brown bears, they established witchcraft as a scapegoat and sentenced suspicious colonists to death. The story follows colonist and semi-religious Puritan John Proctor, played by John Leon, and his wife Elizabeth Proctor, played by Cristina Otegui, as a cacophony of circumstances from lechery to shame and Paranormal Activity-like spirits propel the story to infamy.
Darcie Flansberg, director of the play, attributes the grandeur of the Inland Stage Company’s rendition of The Crucible to the wonderful cast. “This cast not only absorbed their own characters’ emotions, but also quickly developed chemistry that makes the audience feel that they are viewing very intimate moments.”
ISC artistic director Jim Marbury, who also plays Governor Danforth, agrees with Flansberg. “The trick is: 90 percent is casting it right. You’re trying to thread the needle, and when it comes to actors who willingly audition for this, there’s not a lot of them out there. These are some of the finest actors that I personally think are the best in the area. Darcie nailed it.”
In the play, John Proctor’s recent affair with Abigail Williams has placed him in the middle of witchcraft accusations. A role that’s no doubt difficult to perform, but Leon has the support of Marbury. “I can’t say enough about this man’s performance. He is the heart of the party. At the end of the scene, you want to know you’re working with someone who knows what they’re doing. He exemplifies the kind of actor we look for in our company.” Leon had also played in the ISC’s Romeo and Juliet as Mercutio, among many others.
Paola Cifuentes acts as the play’s classic antihero, Abigail Williams, who was wildly accused of witchcraft and grand delusions. Danforth and Williams are among the true villains in this psychopathic world, and Cifuentes’ performance is spot-on. “Not only does she have great depth of skill, she has a technique for dramatic moments. Paola and I have worked together for three shows. Her raw skill just increases by every play,” says Marbury.
The play contains a plethora of other essential characters. Reverend Hale—played by Dane Johnston—transforms internally as he realizes the ludicrousness of witchcraft. The aforementioned misfortunate Elizabeth Proctor is advertently and unjustly targeted as a witch. Betty Parris—played by Emily Vanvalkenburg—is an accomplice of the immoral Williams. The list goes on, enveloping variable types of personalities in the theatrical world.
For Marbury, however, ISC’s rendition of The Crucible isn’t simply an entertaining show, but also a philosophical piece of real-world drama. “We’re committed to a lot of the themes The Crucible is about. Personal freedom; how the system can exploit and do great harm to the individual. With the current climate which I believe our society is going through, The Crucible is kind of a restoring of courage.” And with one of the most audacious resolutions in theater, this play is sure to create a stir in public perception of the world.
While The Crucible is one of the greatest plays of all time, the ISC’s venue has plenty of seats open to the public. “It really is an opportunity to see if you like dramatic theater, or a very entertaining night out,” adds Marbury. “If you love theater, you’ll love the work that we do.”
The Crucible at The Esplanade Art Center, 2181 W. Esplanade, San Jacinto, (951) 600-7273; www.inlandstage.org. Thru Nov. 20. $12-$15.