Arthur Miller’s classic drama, The Crucible, may seem an unlikely play for Galesburg’s community theatre troupe, The Prairie Players. However, this diverse group of actors proved that Miller’s 1953 play about the Salem witch trials remains relevant today.
Despite a few slow points, The Prairie Players managed to put on an engrossing and entertaining production at The Orpheum Theatre on Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24.
Miller’s landmark play centers on a group of Salem families caught up in accusations of witchcraft. After a group of young women are caught dancing in the forest with Barbadian slave Tituba, they claim to be overtaken by the devil. The claim spurs a slew of witch trials.
Salem’s new reverend, Samuel Parris, and supposed-witch Abigail Williams lead the attack on witchcraft, and, soon, the wife of convict farmer John Proctor. Proctor is skeptical of these charges of witchcraft and gets into trouble when he starts questioning the veracity of their claims.
The Crucible not only examines a turbulent period in American history but also comments on McCarthyism and the trials of supposed communists that occurred when the play was written.
The trials of the young women accused of witchcraft are startlingly similar to the hysteria that occurred when Americans were accused of communist leanings. Miller also explores ideas of paranoia, guilt and truth throughout the play.
The standout actress in this drama was Sarah Mohr, who starred in the lead role of Abigail Williams. Mohr perfectly channeled Abigail’s manipulative and sly persona without being overdramatic. Mike Bennett, who played John Proctor, also could have easily overplayed such a tormented character, but he rarely went into histrionics. The relationship between these two former lovers was also extremely well done.
Knox freshman Jeri Murphy, sophomore Monica Prince and Marty Helms also played leading roles. Prince played a very convincing Tituba and perfectly captured her emotional struggle, while Helms did an outstanding job playing the cold and harsh Reverend Parris.
While The Crucible is an incredibly intense play with a lot of heated conversations, much of The Prairie Players’ dialogue dissolved into screaming matches without any buildup. Many of the scenes remained on the same emotional level, giving the play a feeling of monotony. Another setback was the staging, which could have benefitted from some tweaking. At times, actors awkwardly clustered around the stage in an unnatural fashion.
In any other play, the stage’s barren set would have left something to be desired; however, the main focus of this play is the actors and their interactions with one another. The set, consisting of a large platform and various wooden tables and chairs, was barren but sufficient.
Although the buildup to the last scene was successful and created much-needed suspense, the final scene seemed a bit abrupt and could have been fleshed out a bit more. Despite a few minor setbacks, the acting and tension in the Prairie Player’s rendition of The Crucible made it well worth the trek to the Orpheum Theatre.