By Lory Diaz
University of Toronto’s Hart House Theatre is currently performing The Crucible, directed by Michael Rubinstein and based on the work by American playwright Arthur Miller. Rubinstein’s production runs from Jan 19, 2018 to Feb 3, 2018, and, despite being set in the 17th century, and written during the mid-twentieth century, the major themes feel relevant for the current times.
Set in the late 1600s in Salem, Massachusetts, the play revolves around the semi-fictionalized witch trials. The play touches upon themes of religion, belief, loyalty, persecution, and women’s rights (or lack thereof), and runs for 2 hours and 30 mins – although we did leave closer to 11 p.m. on opening night. The themes and plot are heavy with emotion, so please keep that in mind if you’re thinking of making The Crucible at Hart House Theatre a family event with younger children.
I want to start by commending Set Designer Chris Penna, Lighting Designer C.J. Astronomo, and Stage Manager Alyssa Obrigewitsch. The stage itself is very minimal with a handful of bare trees and wooden posts scattered around a circular wooden platform that raises the focus scene and actors by roughly a foot. The lighting remains either in cool purple or blue tones, with the occasional contrasting warm or yellow-tone accents. How these elements come together is crucial, as it intensifies the ominous and eerie mood of the play.
The raised platform allows for Obrigewitsch and Rubinstein to create very dynamic levels with very little effort: the main scene remains on the platform, while the rest of the cast either stand or sit in the background, amidst fog and darker lighting. This creates the illusion of a much larger stage and scene, as the actors in the background appear much farther away than they actually are. The looming figures heighten the mood, as it always feels as though mysterious figures are watching.
Maintaining the cast on stage also allows for the actors to remain in character, and not break emotionally from a scene. Jon Berrie (as John Proctor), Anthony Botelho (Reverend Samuel Parris), and Nina Rose Taylor (Mary Warren) are just three actors to keep an eye out for, as their dedication to the characters is extremely focused! I was also incredibly impressed with the comedic timing and physicality of Thomas Gough, who played Giles Corey. Fantastic job!
Two other impressive production aspects came from Sound Designer Jeremy Hutton, and Costume Designer Brandon Kleiman. Sometimes music and sound in a play can jolt the audience out of a moment, or just come across as cheesy. Hutton creates the perfect music for the ambiance, as the sounds are dark and mysterious, only increasing in tempo or volume for effect in short bursts. Subtle, but extremely effective.
Kleiman’s costume design incorporates the same subtlety: characters with a more ambiguous moral compass have darker silhouettes with heavier detailing, while the more pious and “pure-hearted” people of Salem are dressed in earth-tones and natural textiles. All costumes come from a darker palette, but the textural detailing is beautiful even if quite slight. Any fashion lover will immediately take a liking to Ann Putnam’s (played by Allyson Landy) outfit, especially her corset.
Director Rubinstein commented on the importance of The Crucible today because it “…[sheds] new light on repeated issues.” I absolutely agree that despite coming from the McCarthy era, and the shocking political activity of the time, Miller’s The Crucible remains an incredibly relevant work for today’s audience. Not only will this play stir emotions, but it will leave you questioning how such actions are a continued issue in our society. A beautifully dark, well executed, and must-see play!
The Crucible at Hart House Theatre runs until February 3, 2018. Tickets are Adults $28, Seniors $17 and Students $15. On Wednesdays, student admission is $12. Book online and pick up tickets at the Hart House Theatre Box Office before the show.