SHOWING : October 10, 2008 - November 01, 2008
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The Blackwell Playhouse is proud to announce its production of Arthur Miller's classic "The Crucible". Set in the small town of Salem Massachusetts, this vastly moving story explores the struggle of one man with his conscience, and his eventual purification. Set in 1692, it was a time when paranoia, hysteria, and deceit gripped the Puritan towns of New England. The focus is on one community in particular that ignites and burns with accusations of hearsay, mass hysteria and retribution – vivid symbolism for today's world.
Friday and Saturday evenings from October 10 to November 1 at 8:00 PM
Sunday afternoons on October 19 and 26 at 3:00 PM
Blackwell Square Shopping Center
3378 Canton Road
Marietta, GA 30066
Free parking and handicapped accessible
Reservations strongly recommended
Call (678) 213-3311
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As it Was in the End|
Monday, October 27, 2008 ||
As a general point, how a production ends can contribute a disproportionate effect to our overall appreciation of a play. I’ve seen outstanding shows thoroughly ruined by an ill-conceived or ill-staged ending, and I’ve seen fair-to-middling productions reverberate in my memory because of a sucker-punch conclusion.|
One of the themes of Arthur Miller’s Salem-Witch/McCarthyism classic “The Crucible” is how the characters choose to end their lives. Noble endings provide the cap on unblemished lives, and prideful rejection of a life of lies wash clean previous mis-steps. In fact, how one chooses to end one’s life is presented as an essential part, an essential complement, of how one chooses to live one’s life.
These seemingly disparate thoughts came together this weekend as I took in Blackwell Playhouse’s production of “The Crucible.” For three-quarters of the play, I sat with my arms crossed, critically dismissing most of the supporting performances, sniffing at some directorial mis-steps, and cruelly wondering at how I can mis-phrase my reactions to the work of some friends who participated.
Then, Act IV came along and knocked my socks off with a moving scene in which every note was hit right and every emotion was pulled out of me, kicking and screaming.
To be sure, I went into this production with a lot of bias – it has long been one of my favorite Arthur Miller plays, and was one of the first plays I worked on during my college years. A subsequent production I was in forever cast any expectation into the stratosphere with its Act III frenetic hysteria, willful seduction, and inevitable doom.
And, for the first three acts here, few of my expectations were met. Sure, the design was good – black-box set with simple furnishings and eerie full-moon background, nice period costumes (if a tad lace-frilly for the Puritan sensibilities of the characters), and an outstanding sound design (the new-agey music selections may have been wrong for the period, but they were absolutely correct for the mood and tone). Sure, the leading roles of Proctor (Zip Rampy), Parris (Mark Olsen), Hale (Jonathan Horne), Danforth (Brink Miller) and Elizabeth Proctor (Amanda Pickard) were done with competence and skill, if not much originality or surprise.
But, the supporting cast seemed to be just-off-book under-rehearsed, and friends can nail roles seemed to sleep-walk through them. The energy of the play dropped whenever more than three people were on stage, and it soared whenever the leads were alone, playing off each other.
Two directorial mis-steps during Act III (the trial scene) further aggravated my reservations. In the first, director Jerry Harlow chose to “adjust” the beginning to show us a trial scene in which crazy “Sarah Goode” terrorizes the young girls. It is, I suppose, justifiable since it includes only dialog Arthur Miller wrote for the latest movie version of the play. However, from a purely dramaturgical standpoint, it causes some confusion – the scene is supposedly an “informal” hearing, set in a chapel beside the actual courtroom. This was originally a nod to the “court as an arm of the church” motif, and highlighted how the judges believed they were doing “God’s work.” By putting this scene in, we have to wonder, where’s Danforth throughout? Why is testimony being given in an “unofficial” location? Why does Giles Corey comment on his wife’s testimony being heard “just now” when we see it was another character? And, why is the room emptied prior to the start of the scene as written? In and of itself, it’s not a bad scene, but, without more thought given to its dramaturgical place in the story, or at least a better-justified transition back into the original scene, it sticks out like a prickly pin-doll without adding that much.
The other mis-step was the staging of the final confrontation between the girls and Mary Warren. This scene is supposed to crackle with energy and tension, with the “afflicted” girls in control. Here, though, it is statically staged, with everyone “glued” in place, and with large pacing gaps that sap the energy. Abigail is supposed to act as the seducer, convincing the court of her fear and her pain, the girls running every which but sane in an effort to keep everyone off-balance and unsure. By keeping them still, by letting their energy sag, the scene falls completely flat, and the judges look foolish for accepting the girls’ petulant whining as real fear and real pain. Even though our modern sensibilities know how foolish the judges really were, this scene only works if we ourselves are half-way convinced of the sincerity of the girls’ antics.
All this nit-picking aside, what elevates this production is the final scene. One of the joys of community theatre is discovering a performer, a performance that ranks alongside the best that Atlanta has to offer. Such a performance is given by Amanda Pickard as Elizabeth Proctor in this final scene. She is absolutely convincing as the forgiving wife, the stoic puritan, the concerned mother, the victim of circumstance. Every unspoken subtext is writ large on her face, every unexpressed emotion is clear. More than that, those who share the stage with her are likewise elevated, giving performances that were unexpected when compared with the earlier scenes, particularly Mr. Rampy’s John Proctor) – I was utterly convinced of his true feelings for this woman, of his fear about his upcoming execution, of his moral ambivalence. Do not be surprised if Ms. Pickard’s performance finds its way onto my “Best of the Year” summary come January.
While I’m giving shout-outs for discoveries, let me also cite Kirsten King’s Tituba. Although a small role with just a few minutes of total stage time, Ms. King impressed me with her commitment to the character, her reactions to everyone around her, and (no small feat) her Caribbean accent. I hope to see much more of her onstage in the future.
So, let me end this by repeating my Central Thesis – a strong, well-performed ending can make you forgive a lot of mis-steps, a lot of missed opportunities, and even a lot of not-as-good-as-they-could-be performances. Blackwell Theatre’s production of “The Crucible” may frustrate you and it may irritate you. But the exquisitely performed final act will leave you weeping (as it did me). And, if Amanda Pickard and Kirsten King don’t find their names in next year’s M.A.T. nomination roster, well, all I can say is that Massachusetts has proven too cold for the old boy, and the Devil has truly come down to Georgia.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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Thursday, October 23, 2008 ||
After having read Brad Rudy's somewhat presumptuous review on the "other" theater site, at the insistence of some of my friends who appear in this production, I feel a few comments are in order.|
In order of importance, I would like to take some of the sting from Mr. Rudy's comments, by making the following observations. First, he obviously is not aware that community theater is a training ground for developing talent and not a showcase for the finished product. Therefore, he attends his reviews with an anticipation which can never be met. He expects broadway quality from amatuers. Ain't gonna happen. Therefore, when reading his reviews, which are almost exclusively negative, bear that in mind. Second, early in his review, he gives away the fact that this is going to be a biased review, since it will be affected by his "rose-colored glasses" memories of his past triumphs in the play and will, therefore, be less than objective.
All that being said, I saw this production at the same time as Mr. Rudy, although not through the same eyes. To begin with, let me say that this is not one of my favorite plays. Be that as it may, I found this production to be about as good as any community theater production of Crucible I have seen.
I have seen some as good, and a few which really deserved the rating Brad gave this one.
To be sure, there were a few slow moments, but then there are some of those written into the script. But there were, all in all, many more bright moments than dull ones, and some sterling performances, as touched on in Brad's review.
I was captivatd by the two outstanding female performers, Kirsten King,as Tituba and Amanda Pickard, in the role of Elizabeth Proctor. Zip Rampy was,as
always, "over the top" as John Proctor. To my mind, it took a lot of nerve on the part of Director Jerry Harlow, to cast Rampy and Pickard opposite each other. His gamble paid off. To their everlasting credit, they made the chemistry and they made it work. Credible performances were also turned in by Katie O'Neill as Abigail, Brink Miller in the role of Danforth and Jonathan Horne as the Reverend Hale.
Considering that some of the key players, including Zip Rampy, were very late comers to the cast,(as late as three weeks before opening night) and the difficulty of this vehicle, I think I can truthfully say that it was worth the time and effort on the part of the cast and was an enjoyable event for the audience, with the exception of the unforgiving Mr Rudy. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
| || Didn't Brad give it a B? by Okely Dokely|
| Looks like he liked it overall. A B is a good grade for him, and it's a damn good grade for a community theater production seen by him. Of course it's just my opinion, but I thought his rating was not at all unforgiving, as you say.|
I'm not sure whether I'll be able to see this or not (I'm double-rehearsing as well as have a wedding anniversary coming up), but I look forward to Brad carrying his review over here and any further comments he might have.
| || Lowering the Bar by Dedalus|
| Thanks for your feedback on this. Oddly enough, it looks as if our reactions were fairly similar across the board.|
That being said, I believe you do Community Theatres a disservice when you write them off as "training grounds" that cannot possibly meet "Broadway Standards." Community Theatres can and often do meet the same standards we apply to professional productions, sometimes even outdoing them in imaginative and creative ways of designing and producing with extremely limited resources (in time, money, and people). Most people working in community theatre aren't in training, but are lifelong enthusiasts who excel on top of having a "day job."
Frankly, if we "lower the bar", we're telling them they aren't worthy of our consideration, when the opposite is true. When we write about them, as long as we treat them with respect, citing specific moments or choices that could have been better, we're not being negative but doing what we can to add to the "learning experience." I find that if you expect more from any group or person, when you set the bar equally high for everyone, they'll generally rise to your expectations, and even sometimes surpass them (For example, "'night Mother" at Theatre on Main, "Enchanted April" at Kudzu, and "1776" at Stage II). I only have to point to Act IV of the "The Crucible" at Blackwell to further make that case.
Again, thank you for your feedback.
| || Misunderstood intentions by stevieB|
| I do not belittle community theater or its participants. On the contrary, having been in theater, including community theater for somewhat over 50 years, I am well aware of what it is and what it is not. Nor do I imply that we should "lower the bar" as has been suggested. But,we cannot escape the fact that dissimilarities in expertise and experience on the part of the cast, coupled with inherent problems with different venues combine to provide a unique set of problems for each production. In the case of a cast of 20, as was Crucible, these problems are amplified. For example, several of the key players, including Zip Rampy, had an incredibly short time (less than four weeks) to prepare for this production. While, I have a great deal of respect for Brad Rudy, I felt, and still feel, that many of his comments about this production were unnnecessarily harsh. It does not escape me that he gave it a grade of B, and I am in agreement with that. It is only with some of his comments and judgements that I have a difference of opinion. It appears that I am alone in this feeling and that is okay too. It is not an unfamiliar place. I appreciate this forum, and I do appreciate Brad and his reviews, which I follow faithfully, sometimes agreeing, and other times--, well this is one of those other times. Thanks for your comments one and all.|
| || This Is What I Signed Up For by Cavendish|
| If every debate on this site could be as thoughtful and intelligent as this one then TR.com could sell franchises in every major city in the country. Those kids from HSM could learn from this thread but, alas, most won't even bother to read it much less learn from it.|
Powerful, Moving, full of energy and momentum--and amazing talent. well don|
Sunday, October 19, 2008 ||
I am not rating this just for conscience sake because this is a theatre that is near and dear to my heart. But I paid money and sat in a seat at this dear to my heart venue-- and saw an amazing show.|
From the first word spoken to the last word spoken-- this play moves and plucks at your heart strings. So many characters are just masterfully played. The gentleman that plays Hale demonstrates a range of emotions that effectively show his expression of every position he takes throughout the course of the play and finishes with an anguish and guilt that rings through even his stature at the end the emotions that gentleman communicates on stage with just a glance at times-- brought me to tears even when he did not say a word. his facial expressions and stage presence was powerful and moving.
All the characters in the play were well cast and fitting. the pacing was wonderful and the story -- and its message therein-- emotionally powerful.
From Giles's genuine outspokenness and goodness to all of the children's roles to the judges to Tituba and Sarah Good -- all of the characters and their interactions with each other were, down to the glances and sometimes glowers across the stage at each other-- amazingly well established and consistent and delightfully involved.
And the Proctors! The proctors and their journey -- from first word to last-- they engaged you and brought you to their world with such honesty that one has no choice but follow their roller coaster with them. They worked very well on stage together portraying the goodness that makes them heros and the flaws that make them so very real and human. and the combination makes the couple come to life to the point that you mourn with them with your own tears.
this show is engaging from the moment the first line is said to the final bow
beautiful job. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Salem smells of Pumpkin|
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 ||
In all honesty I will say that I've seen The Crucible performed many times and each has been excruciatingly slow with good acting, poor blocking, and achingly bad character development. I went into the Blackwell Playhouse a bit skeptical. Though I've had bad experiences in the past I have always had a love for Arthur Miller's writings. Always honest and appropriate, his message offers an insight into our society's self righteous hypocricies. A message so desperately needed now in our society's fragile state.|
The set is simple and symmetrical. I find that the younger girls in the cast are incredibly strong in line memorization and delivery. Abigail was believably naive, and shockingly manipulitive. At times it was hard to hear her, but throughout the play she was very strong. I had a hard time believing her affections for John Proctor were genuine, but in the final act she showed great strengths in the courtroom scene.
John Proctor's character is by far one of my favorite characters ever written. Zip Rampey's vision of his character was soft, charming, and honestly human. He played each emotion very well. I believed his emotional struggle, and followed him every step of the way. His moments of comedic relief were also very nice.
Tituba, Sarah Good, and Giles Corey were also very strong. The dialects in the show were well rehearsed and spot on. It was obvious to me as a fellow thespian and theatrical patron that the director and artistic staff did not hesitate to work on pacing, distinct blocking, dialect, projection, character development, and delivery. All were very strong by every member of the cast.
Amanda Hardie as Elizabeth Proctor was elegantly delivered. I have seen this actress in many musicals, but never in a straight drama. She stayed focused, and delivered a very nice performance. Her chemistry with John Proctor was believable, and the emotion she evoked on a rollercoaster throughout the final act was outstanding.
Jonathon Horne was decent as the Reverend Hale. It was nice to see his character grow throughout the final act. I do struggle with this character. Does the incredibly righteous Hale really have a deep empathy for the lives he has condemned or is his triumphant return to the town just an act out of fear for his own selfish salvation? This is a question I am continuously looking for the actor portraying Hale to answer, and it seldom ever is.. Jonathon though, did bring a new and refreshing element to the character and the overall production with his elegant delivery and chemistry with each character he interacted with. Nice job.
There are a few characters I have not gone into detail about, but each were strong in their presence, and confident in their delivery.
The overrall production value was good. Smooth set changes, nice sound effects, great timing from lighting operator, and a fantastic fall ambiance in the auditorium. The pumpkin candles were a great touch. Seeing this production was a refreshing start to the fall season of local theatre. The Blackwell Playhouse's renovations are outstanding, and it is very nice to see John Christian putting so much energy into this playhouse.
This is my first time seeing a production by Jerry Harlow, and in my opinion he did a great job. I would recommend this production to anyone interested in a night of theatre that will make you thankful for the human rights we all are so damn lucky to have.
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by David Shire (music), Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics)