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THE CRUCIBLE – another hit for the Kavinoky (hint: it’s a love story).

THE BASICS: THE CRUCIBLE, Arthur Miller’s 1953 Tony Award winning drama, runs through November 26, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:30 and 7:30, Sundays at 2 at the Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Avenue (on the D’Youville College campus) (829-7668). Runtime: 3 hours which fly by (including one intermission).

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Set in the Puritan colony of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, young Abigail, a servant girl, wants to rekindle the brief affair she has had with her employer, John Proctor, and so assists the aid of her friends one night in casting a death spell on Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth. What seems to us first as a childish prank has lethal intent and grows out of control resulting in neighbors accusing neighbors of witchcraft, a crime/sin punishable by death. As John and Elizabeth try to repair the damage he has done to the family, will their love be enough to survive in a world gone mad?

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Buffalo actors Aleks Malejs [say “malaise”] as Goodwife/Elizabeth and Adriano Gatto as her husband John Proctor take this play to a whole other level. While most productions treat it as a police procedural / courtroom drama, Malejs and Gatto reveal that it’s a story about a man and a woman. By casting these two fine Buffalo actors, we see that the central story is not about hate and venom. It’s about the power of love. Love between husband and wife, love for the other, forgiveness, love of truth, and love of one’s own soul and one’s own good name. While it is usually read in high schools, this is a unexpectedly “adult” play. You may be surprised by the depth of the characters when presented on a professional stage.

Directed by Robert Waterhouse, this Kavinoky production also depends heavily on Christina Foster as Tituba (from Barbadoes, skilled in both the dark and healing arts) and Chris Evans as the conflicted Reverend Hale.

Along with John Fredo, Peter Palmisano, and Adam Yellen as various officers of the court, the townspeople are portrayed by Gerry Maher, Daniel Greer, Eileen Dugan, and David Lundy. The young women in the cast include recent NU grad Shelby Ehrenreich as Abigail, recent UB grad Leah Berst as Mary, along with Emma English, Christine Turturo, and Mikyla Fisher, currently theater majors at UB, NU, and Daemen, respectively.

There are several themes running through THE CRUCIBLE. Certainly, it shines a light on mass hysteria and the dangers of the individual standing up to the crowd and standing up to a misguided judicial system. It is often seen as an allegory of U.S. Senator McCarthy’s “Communist witch hunts” and the dangers of speaking truth to power. We see the clear and present danger to limitations of free speech. And, we are warned about the abuses of theocracy (which is why we continue to protect the separation of church and state). You can’t watch this play without getting a pointed history lesson about our early American settlers which will disabuse you of the notion that “it can’t happen here.” It did and it can. The warning is always that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This lengthy play might have been tedious, but when I looked at my watch I realized that we had sat there for three hours so absorbed that time seemed irrelevant.

Abigail is a cold-blooded calculating hussy.

Another theme that most productions overlook is that the character Abigail is not just a young woman pulling a girlish prank. Abigail is a cold-blooded calculating hussy. Her young friends and certainly the grownups in Salem suffered from hysteria, the medical definition of which is “a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions without an organic basis.” But Abigail is not hysterical. She’s scary.

The opposite of hysterical is calm and controlled, and that is Aleks Malejs territory. In every role I’ve seen her in over the last three years, she delivers a performance that is measured and steady. What a joy to watch her in action.

Kudos to the production team, including Geoffrey Tocin for appropriately edgy entr’acte and incidental music selections (listen for “Sympathy for the Devil”), Brian Milbrand for GROUNDED-quality Film and Video design, and Bonnie Jean Taylor who was the Movement Consultant. I do have one quibble, and that is with the appearance of an Eveready-battery operated flashlight in one scene, and then later a modern court steno machine and a ball-point pen, all in Act II. If this were supposed to be a “timeless” production, I could understand (maybe) but it’s not – the costumes, the sets, even the language which the playwright uses are archaic. These anachronisms seem to be a Waterhouse thing – he did it with the Immigration Police and their walkie-talkies and Uzis in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. Oh well. That’s my quibble.

But talk about a juggernaut. Ever since Loraine O’Donnell has taken over as Managing Director, the Kavinoky Theatre has been cranking out stellar productions, hit after hit, one after another, from THE CITY OF CONVERSATION (also with Malesj), THE FATHER (Malesj, Gatto, and Evans), to GROUNDED (with Malesj as “The Pilot”), to Arthur Miller’s A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (with Gatto and Fredo), to THE PRODUCERS, and now THE CRUCIBLE. If you didn’t buy 2017-2018 season tickets, they are now selling “three packs” which would seem like a very safe investment in your playgoing future.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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