Arthur Miller’s McCarthy-era drama, set in Puritan Salem, still matters. A portrait of a paranoid, litigious society — power-hungry, gripped by misguided moralism — The Crucible predicts, among many things, the era of Donald Trump. But that doesn’t mean, as Flemish director Ivo van Hove’s enjoyable new Broadway production demonstrates, that it’s an uncomplicatedly good play.
Miller, writing in the 1950s, imagined the Salem witch trials as toxic byproducts of greed, narrow-mindedness, and teenage hysteria. Domestic servant Abigail Williams (Saoirse Ronan) loves her master, John Proctor (Ben Whishaw). When John’s wife, Elizabeth (Sophie Okonedo), discovers their affair and fires Abigail, the younger woman plots supernatural revenge. Rumors of witchcraft are soon flying: accusations that are welcomed, then inflated, by jealous neighbors and pompous officials. In this repressed society, the devil is anywhere you choose to see her.
Van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld eschew colonial clichés, placing us instead in a classroom. The histrionic teens, here, are uniformed schoolgirls (fashion blogger turned actress Tavi Gevinson’s Mary Warren is a pitch-perfect instance of sniveling self-importance). This setting — abstracted from The Crucible‘s plot — is a resonant choice, as so many Americans encounter the play in high schools. Lucid naturalistic acting mingles with delightfully surreal, melodramatic effects: heavy underscoring, steaming cauldrons, glimpses of a young woman flying.
But these suggestive flourishes don’t alter the play’s sentimentality, moralism, and uneasy gender politics. Miller ultimately celebrates Proctor’s quest for honor, elevating his journey above the women’s stories — and the community’s. Van Hove’s faithful production can’t patch the cracks in Miller’s conceit.
Directed by Ivo van Hove
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th Street, 877-250-2929