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PCPA delivers powerful production of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" 

When watching a play like The Crucible, now more than 65 years old, one wonders what playwright Arthur Miller would make of America now.

Miller set his landmark, Tony Award-winning play in one of the darkest eras in American history, to shine a light on the troubling hysteria of the Red Scare led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Miller wasn't trying to hide his disdain for the rabidity at which Americans started pointing fingers at one another to save their own hides. The play is a deftly searing critique of humanity's eagerness to believe their own convenient narrative and throw anyone who threatens their way of life squarely under the bus.

click to enlarge PANIC IN SALEM The Pacific Conservatory Theater (PCPA)'s production of Arthur Millers' The Crucible runs through March 4. The play presents an unsettling look at hysteria and suspicion run wild in a small New England town. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LUIS ESCOBAR REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
  • Photo Courtesy Of Luis Escobar Reflections Photography Studio
  • PANIC IN SALEM The Pacific Conservatory Theater (PCPA)'s production of Arthur Millers' The Crucible runs through March 4. The play presents an unsettling look at hysteria and suspicion run wild in a small New England town.

The rollout of Pacific Conservatory Theater (PCPA)'s new production of the play seems gloriously timely, a stark hand held high in the air amid a sea of tongue-wagging and screeching. The play is a prescient reminder that human beings are deeply flawed, fragile, and almost utterly unreliable in the face of fear. If Miller were alive today, I'm sure he would be on myriad talk shows, either proselytizing about the dangers of unfounded accusations or lamenting the derangement of politicians who want to ban or arrest people of certain religions or nationality on a mass scale.

For PCPA's part, they've put on a brawny effort to bring Miller's vision to the Marian Theater. Starting with the set, PCPA immediately establishes the tone for a stripped-down version of the play, tearing away at any artifice or spectacle and keeping the attention squarely where it belongs, on the tight group of actors working through Miller's allegory.

Actors such as Skye Privat, who portrays gossipy ringleader Abigail Williams, get a chance to skyrocket with their range, thanks to the intimacy of the theater and direction. Williams is an orphaned young girl whose parents were brutally murdered in front of her, and Privat dives into the underbelly of that trauma in a way that resonates effectively. Privat vacillates from tempest to quivering child to villainous shrew so deftly one would think the role was almost three different parts played by three different women. She is electric when delivering the heartiest of Miller's lines, scorching the man who seduced her and abandoned her with a fire in her eyes that was visible from the back row.

Andrew Philpot (John Proctor) takes his time to entice the audience into his role. Proctor at first comes off as somewhat brutish or even buffoonish, a farmer who had an affair with his teenage maid and clumsily regrets it. Philpot has a rugged vulnerability to his performance but he's especially good when firing back at the hypocrisy of those in power. Philpot has something restrained in him that when pulled at like a thread comes unfurling like a kite, massive and soaring.

click to enlarge HE SAID, SHE SAID, THEY SAID Andrew Philpot (pictured foreground) delivers a dynamic and complex performance as John Proctor in Pacific Conservatory Theater (PCPA)'s new production of The Crucible. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LUIS ESCOBAR REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
  • Photo Courtesy Of Luis Escobar Reflections Photography Studio
  • HE SAID, SHE SAID, THEY SAID Andrew Philpot (pictured foreground) delivers a dynamic and complex performance as John Proctor in Pacific Conservatory Theater (PCPA)'s new production of The Crucible.

It is also a pleasure to again see George Walker (Reverend Nathan Hale), sincerely one of the best PCPA actors working today. He has a knack for becoming almost unrecognizable in his roles and, yet again, I didn't recognize him until the second act. Walker taps into the frustration of Hale, bound by his religious convictions, yet proofed by logic and reason enough to be wary of the madness exploding around him.

Our current political and sociological times are exactly what The Crucible tried so desperately to warn us about: objections and disagreements splintering off into suspicion and decaying into outright hatred and fear. Hopefully, there are enough of us out there who, like Miller, learned a thing or two from the past and won't let it go that far ever again. Δ

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose from New Times' sister paper, the Sun, is definitely a witch. Contact her at rrose@santamariasun.com.


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